Sunday, February 7, 2016

Hail, Caesar! - Movie Review: Was it Pointless on Purpose?

If there was a Seinfeld episode, set in the 50’s about making movies, then it would have been called Hail, Caesar!
Hail, Caesar! Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney and directed by the Coen brothers. The film tells the story of an actor who gets abducted from set and the fixer at the studio who has to deal with his disappearance. Josh Brolin plays the fixer, and George Clooney the actor; who is part of a major production for the studio, aptly titled Hail, Caesar! This is what the movie is about on the surface, or it’s at least what has been shown in the trailers. I’m not sure there was any actual point to the movie, which I think was by design.
The movie follows Josh Brolin’s character, Eddie Mannix, for the most part. It’s basically a day in the life for a studio executive in the 1950’s.  He tries to put out fires and ensure things run smoothly on the production lot.  Mannix is almost the exact opposite of another Coen brother’s comedy protagonist, The Dude. Mannix has a family, a steady job he cares about, he keeps a regimented schedule, and is religious. In the end though both characters seem to float through life, not really doing anything to accomplish their tasks. Every action Mannix takes throughout the course of the movie doesn’t have any overall effect. He has a purpose, and goes about it with relentless vigor, but in the end he has no impact on the world around him.
I may be reading into the movie too much. It could just be a movie with no purpose or point. The Coen’s just wanted to make a film about what it was like to make movies in the 50’s, and this is what they came up with. I think they are too good of filmmakers for this to be true.  Some of the initial reactions I saw from people were that it was a meandering mess or it was too much of a love letter the to 50’s instead of a good movie.  I’ll agree with these statements. It is a meandering mess, and it is a love letter to the 50’s. I just think it was a meandering mess by design, and even with it being a love letter to the 50’s they made a good movie.
The actors all do great jobs. Brolin was really good as Mannix, and Clooney played a loveable idiot well. The ancillary cast all play up the 50’s dialogue and style. The script helps build the environment of the film.  If the Coen’s do one thing better than anyone else, it is creating a world for the actors to inhabit in each of their movies. Hail, Caesar is no different. They create an entire world out of the studio lot were much of the movie takes place. The sets in the film are amazing, and transport you back to how movies were made during the golden age of film. The Coen’s throw in more of this old filmmaking style within the actual movie; using miniatures and stage sets, instead of modern techniques. It works well for the framework of the movie.
Not everything works well unfortunately. The voiceover used in the film, while I get what they were trying to do, was used to frequently and for too long. It harkens back to The Big Lebowski as well, but while I like Michael Gambon’s voice, he is no Sam Elliot. I think some will complain about the run time, but even though not much happens during the movie I didn’t find it too long. The main plot of the film is weak, but on purpose. The movie is supposed to be absurd.
The absurdity is the comedy. The amount of pressure Eddie Mannix is under just to make sure all the fictional stories get told is ludicrous. Yet he still feels at the end of the day this is the right place for him to be. The long hours away from his family and stress the job causes gives him some sort of satisfaction, and nothing else will. I do think Mannix might represent the Coen brother’s or other people they know in the industry. Obviously when enormous amounts of money go into making a movie pressure is high. Many jobs rely on how well a film does when it is released. At the end of the day however it is still just trying to tell made up stories in front of a camera. Why is something so absurd taken so seriously? I guess money always makes things serious.
When I walked out of the theater I thought the movie was okay. I liked it better than Burn After Reading, but it is not one of Coen brother’s best work. After thinking about the movie I liked it more than I initially thought I did. It’s still not one of their best movies, but if you love the Coen brothers then it’s still Worth Seeing in theaters. I think the movie needed one more strong over the top character, like a Walter from Big Lebowski, to make the film stick out more. It’s funny, but I think it might be forgotten.  If you don’t like the Coen brothers, or if you just like some of their movies then I would pass on Hail, Caesar or wait until its available for rental. It’s not one I’m going to own, but if it popped up on HBO or another paid channel I would stop and watch.

If you have seen Hail, Caesar what did you think? Did you enjoy it and think it was funny, or was it too out there? What is your favorite Coen brother movie? Mine’s probably No Country for Old Men. Comment and let me know. 

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