Hail, Caesar! Rated PG-13
This comedy from the Coen Brothers (four-time Oscar winners Ethan and Joel) is a tribute/spoof of 1950’s Hollywood. The brothers write, produce, direct and jointly edit this film under their Roderick Jaynes pseudonym. There are all kinds of inside jokes and references to real people and places here, including Eddie Mannix.
Oscar nominee (for Milk), Josh Brolin, plays Mannix, which is the name of a real person who did a similar job for MGM. Our Mannix is Head of Physical Production for Capitol Pictures. The film follows him through a day in his life in 1951 as he solves problems throughout the day and repeatedly goes to confession (dealing with his guilt about not stopping smoking, as he had promised his wife). He is being courted by Lockheed Aviation, who has made a lucrative offer and are pressing him for a decision. His studio is making a number of films, the biggest is the epic Ben Hur-like Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ, starring Baird Whitlock (Two-time Oscar winner George Clooney in his fourth Coen Brothers film). Whitlock goes missing, kidnapped by a group of Communist screenwriters who call themselves “The Future” and take him to a luxurious oceanfront home in Malibu, demanding a ransom of $100,000.
Mannix also deals with star DeeAnna Moran’s (Scarlett Johansson) out of wedlock pregnancy, corporate’s orders to move singing cowboy Hobie Doyle (played by the likeable Alen Ehrenreich) to a romantic leading man, much to the chagrin of director Laurence Laurentz (Two-time Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes), and two persistent gossip columnists, both played by Oscar winner (for Michael Clayton) Tilda Swinton. (Note: Swinton also portrayed the White Witch in the three Chronicles of Narnia films).
The film is rated PG-13, and includes minimal language issues that you can hear on network television, including one misuse of Jesus’ name. It also includes a good deal of faith related content played for comic purposes (from the filming of Hail Caesar! A Tale of the Christ, to Mannix’s frequent trips to the confessional, to Mannix’s humorous meeting with leaders of varied faith communities to assure that the film doesn’t offend any of them). Sexual content is more subtle and inferred (Moran’s Esther Williams aquatic number and Channing Tatum’s “No Dames” all-guys dance number).
The film has a strong cast (I haven’t mentioned Frances McDormand (Oscar winner for the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. Wife of Joel Coen, this is her eighth collaboration with the Coen brothers, as well as two-time Oscar nominee Jonah Hill in small roles), and has much (probably too much), going on as we follow Mannix through his day. The film is narrated by an uncredited Michael Gambon, known for his role as Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films.
I enjoyed the sets, hairstyles and costumes of 1950s Hollywood that are recreated here by production designer Jess Gonchor and costume designer Mary Zophres. Unfortunately, though I have seen several of their films, I don’t always get the Coen Brothers’ humor, though some in our theatre certainly did. Instead, despite the strong cast, I thought the film was just slow and boring, not really funny at all. Let me know if you feel otherwise.