By Adam Cutrone
“Forgive me father, it has been 24 hours since my last confession.”
“Hail, Caesar!” is the 17th feature film from Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan (“True Grit”, “Fargo”, “No Country for Old Men”), and it is a gleefully kitsch love letter to the golden age of cinema.
Josh Brolin (“True Grit”, “No Country For Old Men”) plays Eddie Mannix, a Hollywood fixer and a devout Catholic that is wound tighter than the gold watch he uses to count the hours between holy confessions. As the first line of defense at Capital Pictures against the prying eyes of the press, Mannix works around the clock to fight tooth and nail for the industry that he holds so dear. Brolin is the epitome of the square-jawed, 1950s professional man that makes Don Draper look like Hunter S. Thompson. Amid the balancing act that is keeping the Hollywood machine afloat, Mannix learns that leading man Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) of Capital Pictures’ most ambitious film yet, aptly named “Hail, Caesar!”, has been kidnapped by a group ominously named “The Future”. With the filming of its triumphant conclusion weighing in the balance, Hollywood looks to Mannix to do what he does best to quietly intervene.
Similarly in the way that “The Hateful Eight” is very much a Tarantino picture, for better or worse, “Hail, Caesar!” is very much a Coen Brothers film. This offbeat, finely tuned comedy, beautifully gilded in 1950s Hollywood, effortlessly balances themes of religion, capitalism and the threat of the iron curtain; everything you could possibly want in a Coen Brothers movie. For a tragic comedy helmed by the same men responsible for “The Big Lebowski” and countless other classics, the humor is rarely side-splitting. However, “Hail, Caesar!” is otherwise so charming and pleasantly entertaining that it never feels flat in this regard.
A number of A-list performances, much to the dismay of many audience goers, are little more than mere cameos despite what promotional posters and trailers suggest. But in the frenetic energy of the Capital Studios Backlot, perhaps the revolving door of top-notch talent is more of a reflection of the environment itself rather than of a lapse of reasoning in the editing room. That being said, there is something almost criminal about how little Ralph Fiennes is in the film, given how absolutely brilliant his comedic performance is.
Beyond the brevity of some of its cast members, the conclusion of “Hail, Caesar!” leaves viewers with a palpable sense that something is missing. As is the case with most Coen Brothers productions, it is rather easy to get swept up in the current of beautifully shot film stock that accentuates a signature blend of humor and tragedy that only Joel and Ethan can provide. But for a film that takes such care to ensure its setting and story feel as enjoyable as they do, it’s very quick to wrap up its many loose ends in a conclusion that feels as sudden as it is convenient. In the moments shortly after leaving the theater, I found myself questioning my own interpretation of the film (which is not unusual for the Coen Brothers), only to discover a number of other people who had seen the film also felt a similar sense of disenchantment.
This week had started with the less than inspiring news that in its opening weekend “Hail, Caesar!” performed worse than any other film that the veteran film writer/directors had released. I’m sure that as this news spreads, it won’t help its future box office performance. This is less of a reflection of the quality or allure of “Hail, Caesar!” itself and more-so proof that regardless of the talent involved, you should never release a film on the same weekend as the Super Bowl. “Hail, Caesar!” may not be a perfect film, but it is certainly one worthy of the time and consideration of an audience, especially those passionate about film production and the nostalgia of the golden age of the silver screen.