Review: Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Released in 2016, Hail, Caesar! is an interesting entry in the Coen Brothers catalogue. Although fairly well received by many critics, it fared poorly at the box office and was possibly a bit confusing for many viewers. It is also a period piece set in the 1950s and, therefore, dare I say it, maybe a bit out of style with a younger movie-going audience who would probably prefer to watch dark action thrillers like No Country For Old Men (2007).

Based on the real-life E.J. Mannix, a studio fixer at MGM in the 1950s, Hail, Caesar! tells the tale of a few days in the life of Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin) when a big studio star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) goes missing, wreaking havoc on the titular production being shot on the studio lot. Brolin is really a driving force here, and his character is central to the events which unfurl.

Hail, Caesar! (2016)
Hail, Caesar! (2016)

It transpires that Whitlock has been kidnapped, a common Coen film subject, which leaves Mannix to try and re-arrange the shooting schedules, organise a ransom and arrange to have his star returned unharmed as soon as possible.

The film is a lot of fun with plenty of gags and references littered throughout, and of course, contains the usual symphony of classic Coen Brothers dialogue. Hail Caesar! is a love letter to classic Hollywood, and the world that the Coens have created raises a smile for the nostalgia of yesteryear.

There are some hilarious scenes, with the most memorable being the “Would That It Were So Simple” scene, which had me creased with laughter. Alden Ehrenreich is excellent as the talented, up-and-coming cowboy star who finds himself out of his element when asked to act in a dialogue-heavy drama produced by Ralph Fiennes‘ Laurence Lorenz.

With a wonderful array of fantastic actors that includes Coen regulars Brolin and Clooney, with new-comers Ralph Fiennes and Alden Ehrenreich, there is support from Jonah HillChanning Tatum and Scarlett Johansson, amongst others. 

As always, the Coens had a set brimming with talent and hired their usual cinematographer, the deservedly lionised Roger Deakins. The picture is forever beautiful, and they manage to capture the colour palette and production representing this era of classic Hollywood perfectly. It feels like a lot more could have been done at times. However, we get an array of hilarious performances, particularly Channing Tatum, whose camp portrayal of a Gene Kelly-style song and dance performer has to be admired.

Hail, Caesar! (2016)
Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Where I think the disconnect between audience members and critics lies is in the cinematic references. The film is packed with callbacks and homages to yesteryear. From the communist script-writers, the obvious Ben-Hur (1959) style epic production, the musical-inspired dance number, etc. The film is packed with homage, even down to actor similarities and shots that are nods to classic old films. See how many you can spot. Cinephiles could spend days breaking down Hail, Caesar!’s array of references, intentional or not. That can be fun in a film but doesn’t necessarily translate to a great plot.

Hail, Caesar! (2016)
Hail, Caesar! (2016)

A lot of effort has been taken into every element of the production, particularly the fantastic work of costume designer Mary Zophres who developed a unique wardrobe that perfectly recreates the 1950s setting and the Roman period film they are shooting within the story.

This movie has bright moments, and it’s always been clear that the Coen brothers adore film history. One gets the impression that Hail Caesar! is their way of honouring this great Hollywood tradition, which they are now part of. There are genuinely funny moments. It kept me smiling, and I loved the film references. The stand-out performances from Clooney and Ehrenreich made this film shine, but the meandering plot and loose structure sometimes tend to let it down. Coen fans will love it, but it’s easy to see why this did not translate to a potentially wider audience.

And that’s our review of Hail, Caesar!

Did you enjoy Hail, Caesar!? What did you think of our review? Let us know in the comments!

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David Roberts
Dave is a digital content creator, web and software developer and keen filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @drobertsdigital.