Hail, Ceasar! is likely not a movie everyone’s going to enjoy. If you’re accustomed to the story-heavy, action-packed, tonally-consistent structure of “regular” movies, then this is not for you. Hail, Ceasar! almost feels like a sketch show (SNL, Bubble Gang) with a Hollywood in the 50’s theme.
The film revolves around Eddie Mannix and a day in his life as the head producer (?)/troubleshooter for the movie production company, Capitol Films.
That’s pretty much it. It’s about a guy fixing the typical problems of a movie studio in the 50s. All the little segments/studio issues were only very loosely connected (the only connecting fibre being Mannix himself), with the most pronounced arc being the kidnapping of major celebrity, Baird Whitlock. (Baird Whitlock who’s played by George Clooney, and is ironically like the George Clooney of their world.)
But there’s not really much to that plotline. It’s a very superficial thread, and the movie really just jumps from one problem, one scenario, one small sub-story, to another, complete with its own set of actors, tone and content. Like I said, it felt like a sketch show with a very specific period theme.
As such there were a lot of prominent actors there who only made an appearance for one or two scenes. (Those promotional posters and trailers were very misleading.) It really just stars Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix, and both Alden Ehrenreich as hot new property, Hobie Doyle, and George Clooney as Whitlock in supporting roles. Jonah Hill, for example, was there for a single scene and one where he barely acted at that. Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, and Ralph Fiennes, albeit being predictably entertaining, only had a couple of appearances. (Loved Channing Tatum’s musical number though!) I wonder how much Hollywood celebs are paid for such stupendously trivial roles.
It has a weak story, it doesn’t follow the typical movie structure, and it’s littered with a lot of underutilized talents. At first glance, it’s a goofy but ultimately pointless and boring film.
Would that it were so simple.
The “story” of Whitlock’s kidnapping was really just a vessel for the movie’s real substance – a gritty representation of the Hollywood industry viewed in comically embellished lenses. And it may have been set in the 50s but most of the themes, character archetypes and situational comedy could still apply today. The overzealous gossip journalists, the flavor-of-the-year actors with no talent, the manufactured public image, the movie makers’ version of quality assurance and their trying to please all cultures and stakeholders; save for the technologically challenged editing bay, and the communist angle, everything else is still relevant in today’s film-making landscape.
At the same time, it also highlights the era’s genres and film-making styles with rich, gleeful detail. Even in the way it tells its main story – that of Mannix’ day – it’s very reminiscent of a forgotten cinematographic style.
You could say that Hail, Ceasar! is the anti-movie. It unveils Hollywood’s dirty little secrets and unrefined corners, simultaneously looks at the industry from a closer and a broader perspective, and removes the magic from movie magic but poetically still is a film with that very magic. It’s behind-the-scenes the movie; and yes, it’s as intellectual and profound as it sounds.
Hail, Ceasar! is the Coen brothers’ spoof of Hollywood; which is why a day in the life of a Hollywood producer is the most accurate way of describing the film’s core. If you come in to the movie knowing this, or are familiar with the Coen brothers’ style, you’ll be able to appreciate the movie. Otherwise, it may just come off as a very, very odd movie, or worse, a frustrating one.
It’s personally too highbrow for my taste. I like my stories linear, sensible and pay off big in the end. I enjoyed it, as I enjoy art in whatever form it takes, but as with anything else, it’s all relative, you just enjoy some things better than others. And the “greatest hits of the 50’s” shtick, although intermittently entertaining, was not what I was hoping for getting into the cinema. If you’re a cinephile, and you’re invested in the art of film-making, or the post-war era Hollywood, then you’ll definitely appreciate the movie better.
Hail, Ceasar! is no doubt a loving caricature of 50s Hollywood. The situational hilarities and remarkable detail of the period piece were definitely pleasing, but the film as a whole is an acquired taste. With the loose structure, fizzy pace, strange, uneven tone and thin plot, Hail, Ceasar! will be renounced before it’s commended by the common movie-goer. You’ll be left wanting for a more substantial movie experience to fill your cinematic appetite, and would best leave this movie for the small screen or the film theory enthusiasts.