Entertainment » Movies

Hail, Caesar!

by Roger Walker-Dack
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Feb 5, 2016
Scarlett Johansson stars in 'Hail Caesar!'
Scarlett Johansson stars in 'Hail Caesar!'  

For their latest collaboration, the multi-Oscar winning Coen Brothers have produced a full-blown comedy that, like many of their films, is based around a botched crime job -- although in this instance they treat this as a rather insignificant plot twist on which they never really bother to follow through. Instead, the focus is on an over-worked "fixer" of a large Hollywood Studio in the early 1950s who must make sure all the movies there are churned out on time and within budget, whilst at the same time keeping his coterie of difficult and temperamental movie stars happy and working.

Based on the real life of Eddie Mannix, who was at one time general manager of the vast MGM Studios, the movie is a kind of tongue-in-cheek love story to the glamorous days of an old-fashioned Hollywood. Mannix, superbly played by Josh Brolin, is the anchor to the piece, which is essentially 28 hours in his rather manic life. The range of tasks he faces, from fixing up the pregnant unmarried DeeAnn Moran (Scarlett Johansson), who is an aqua star in the mode of Esther Williams, to rescuing ingenue Gloria DeLamour (Natasha Bassett) from the clutches of a French Postcard Photographer, are all in a day's work.

All of this pales into insignificance when the studio's biggest star -- the nice, but dim Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) -- disappears whilst in the middle of shooting the studio's hammy religious epic "Hail Caesar." It turns out that he has been kidnapped by a friendly bunch of communist screenwriters who are disgruntled with the studio system, and who (naturally) are controlled by the evil influences of Russia (as all the panic mongers thought back then).

Even as Mannix is trying to resolve this problem, the studio bosses back in New York have more new assignments for him. When they insist that he cast one of the studio's biggest box-office draws (a singing cowboy in a elegant costume drama), he has no choice than to comply. However, Hobie Doyle (an exceptionally wonderful Alden Ehrenreich) has a great deal of trouble just stringing words together in a sentence, and his struggle with his new role makes for one of the funniest scenes in the movie when his director Laurence Laurentz (a terrific Ralph Fiennes) tries to get him to manage to say the simplest of lines.

The Coens touch on most of the Hollywood stereotypes of the period, and at times this rather uneven movie is nothing more than a series of somewhat isolated incidents that are simply strung together. Some of the episodes work extremely well (such as Burt Gurney's (Channing Tatum) big song and dance routine, a delightful turn in the style of Gene Kelly), whereas the usually reliable Tilda Swinton's performance as a pair of twin gossip columnists a la Hedda Hopper falls rather flat, despite her rather stunning hats.

The high points do at least give the overall impression that it is an enjoyable and funny film, even though it is far from the best that the brothers have made. They manage to cram in a lot of action (though very little real plot) into a fast-paced 106 minutes, but at times it seems that the Coens have been more inspired by the kind of high camp Mel Brooks traded in (especially 1974's "Blazing Saddles") than classic Hollywood fare.

Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.

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