Many people initially think the movie industry is all glitz and glam. In some ways, it is, but it can also be tiring, demanding and not worth the high pay. “Hail, Caesar!,” directed, produced, written and edited by the famous Coen Brothers (the duo behind cinematic masterpieces like “Fargo” and “The Big Lebowski”), gives the audience a look into the early 1950s movie industry by focusing on production, adoption, abduction and communism – not necessarily in that order. But does the Coens’ movie about movies deserve top billing or only a passing mention in the gossip column?
Production Head or Fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) has the demanding job of ensuring smooth operation for the Capitol Pictures movie studio. Bad publicity, contract infringement, whatever the problem, Eddie’s there to fix it. But when moviestar Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), star of the studio’s biggest production of the year, “Hail Caesar!,” is drugged and abducted, Eddie must keep things together in and out of the studio, while juggling an alternate job offer, nosy columnist twins and other problems. In execution, this plot’s lack of razor-sharp focus and its fast-paced developments make it disconnected and almost unfocused, but the way the film wraps up does feel satisfying. Don’t worry, there are some funny moments with assorted actors in their respective film shoots throughout the studio.
The cast was fine. Accomplished actors Clooney, Brolin, Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum did perfectly in their roles. While it was fun seeing Black Widow in a mermaid costume and Tatum tap-dancing in a musical, a lot of the cast was underutilized. Actors like Ralph Fiennes and Jonah Hill only show up for five-minute scenes. This makes the viewer wonder why directors would cast big stars in bit parts. The best performance by far is Brolin, who takes all the insanity of his environment in stride, albeit begrudgingly. Alden Ehrenreich, playing a singing cowboy that does his own stunts, is a close second. Near the end, Clooney gives a surprisingly moving pseudo-performance.
This is a conflicting movie. On the one hand, the plot that doesn’t really tie itself together well and the star-heavy cast make this one of the Coens’ lowest value productions. On the other hand, the glimpses into the movie industry, not to mention seeing familiar Coen techniques, are sure to please fans. So while the movie falls a little short of its initial target, some will certainly find it enjoyable. (Between you and me though, go to the matinee showing.)
Grade For movie industry or Coen fans: B-, and for regular viewers: C+.