Ah the Coen Brothers. Directors who have made films that I absolutely adore and films that make me hate being a film snob. Where this rank for me? Read on…
We’re primarily following a day in the life of Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin), a “fixer” for Capital Pictures and based on the real-life person of the same name with a similar occupation. That is to say, he’s basically responsible for keeping a “wholesome” family image for all the celebrities the studio employs and to make sure the movies keep on coming out at a regular, uninterrupted pace. His usual routine of dealing with horny, unfaithful actors and casting disputes is thrown a wrench when the big star (George Clooney) of the studio’s next film, “Hail, Caesar!” is kidnapped by a group known only as “The Future.” And there’s about four other subplots running through this film at the same time involving high quality actors like Scarlett Johansson, Jonah Hill, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, and Channing Tatum. How do these subplots connect to the main plot? Ranges from a tiny bit to fuck all.
Yeah, the trailers for this movie are kind of fucking with you. They all framed the various characters as dealing with Clooney’s kidnapping, when in reality only Josh Brolin and another character deals with the ransom and there’s a bunch of unconnected dramas happening in the background. This film really feels more like the pilot for an interesting television series about the exaggerated day-to-day life of a film studio manager, which sounds great on paper. But as a film? It feels very disjointed.
Not helping is that you focus on the filming of several dance, action, synchronized swimming, and drama sequences that all have different themes, tones, and genres. That being said, each of the sequences are really well done. There’s a cowboy chase scene that’s impeccably shot, Channing Tatum busting out a great tap dancing skit, and Scarlett Johansson in a beautifully produced dance across the water with an orchestra playing in the background. All of these parts are great on their own and truly feel like a master class in how these scenes were produced back in the 1950s. But like I said, there’s hardly any connecting tissue between any of them.
All we have is Josh Brolin moving from stage to stage handling the directors and actors like a mob enforcer for Don Corleone. Sometimes he’s violent, other times he’s calm and even-tempered as he serves as a counselor for their dysfunctional lives. Keep in mind, he’s fucking great. I mean he’s Josh Brolin, of course he is. But he’s given plenty of chances to add depth to his character and eeks out as much as he can to get you to want to follow him on this very odd day. To him and the film’s credit, it mostly works. I was having a lot of fun watching him slapping the shit out of actors and actresses when they step out of line or calmly negotiating through public relations miasmas with a series of somewhat oddball characters.
Compared to the Coen Brothers’ other works, I think this film handles these small bit players way better than something like Burn After Reading or The Big Lebowski. And here’s where I lose several audience members because I was not a big fan of either film upon release. I still hate Burn After Reading but The Big Lebowski grew on me after I saw six or so times before I “got it.” Yes, I know they’re comedies for “thinking film aficionados,” but I still did not enjoy them initially. What I really didn’t like were the odd, irrelevant asides that served no purpose to the movie and we’re completely forgotten about when the credits rolled. But these asides in those movies were from annoying and totally unrealistic people, whereas in Hail, Caesar! the asides are at least funny since we’re dealing with characters that feel like real people.
Perhaps that’s going to the big theme that gets extracted from this movie when it gets dissected in some critic’s analysis of the Coens’ work, characters dropping their facade of the fake spectacle that defined popular films of the 1940s and 1950s and becoming frustrated with their increasingly burdensome masks. But perhaps I’m looking too much into things; because by the end of the movie, all this talk of big productions is just dropped in favor of a Coens’ ending. Which means it just trails off and no more thought is given to the world. I hated it in Burn After Reading and No Country for Old Men, I stomached it in The Big Lebowski and Fargo, but I enjoyed the ambiguous ending for True Grit and The Ladykillers. For this movie, it ranks with “just okay.”
And “just okay” is really my thoughts on this movie. It’s now obvious to me why the Coens didn’t push this during the Oscar season rush between October and December, because it’s just fine. Not terrible, but there’s nothing particularly standout from this movie aside Josh Brolin’s performance. That being said, every single actor and actress in this movie showed up to work and gave entertaining interludes when they were on screen, so I can’t fault the movie for that. Especially with highly competent cinematography and production quality to really immerse you in the world of the Hollywood scene.
Like I said, I would totally watch a television series about Eddie Mannix dealing with the weirdness that comes with artists, hookers, and alcohol. But this film just left me with blue balls for a series that never came. But hey, they did turn Fargo into a renowned television series, so maybe the Coens can help greenlight a series using this movie as a jumping off point. Until that time, this film is getting from me a low…