Old Hollywood is fascinating. From the way it was run to its finished projects, it is to today’s Hollywood what a lion is to a tiger: a distinct beast from the same family tree. It would be unfair to compare technology-driven aspects of film, such as special effects or video resolution, from then to now. It would also be impossible to compare an Alfred Hitchcock thriller with its modern day counterpart; the latter does not exist. However, with so many films released in one year alone, one cannot expect the average filmgoer to be well versed in classic Hollywood cinema.
Which is why Hail, Caesar! is not for most people.
The story focuses on a day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a Hollywood fixer of the 1950s. Mannix finds himself trying to find Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the star of the expensive epic Hail, Caesar, who has been kidnapped by a group called The Future. As the day starts to unfold, Mannix struggles to right all the wrongs that occur on movie sets while trying to get home on time for dinner.
Written and directed by the Coen brothers, Hail, Caesar! features Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes and Scarlett Johansson to name a few. In an ideal world, a film with such glut of talent behind and in front of the camera should be incredible. What audiences get is a film that may look pretty but fails to tell an interesting story. One can clearly see what the Coen brothers wanted to do, but they can also see how the directors failed to execute.
Let’s start with the positives. Cinematographer Roger Deakins continues to spoil us with beautifully shot movies, no matter their digital or, in the case of Hail, Caesar!, film origin. Alden Ehrenreich gives a breakout performance, which is amazing given the talent he is surrounded by and the fact that he is one of the least known names in the cast. The scenes that focus on the process of filmmaking are hilarious because they highlight the necessary absurdity that comes with making movies. More importantly, the scenes that pay tribute to several old Hollywood genres are the best part of the film, managing to be both visually nostalgic and witty parodies. If only these scenes had made up most of the film.
The problem with Hail, Caesar! is that it tries to do too much. Because the kidnapping of Baird Whitlock is one of the many issues that Eddie Mannix needs to fix and the film does not spend enough time on it, the kidnapping does not carry enough weight. The side plots and characters are also far more interesting than the main plot and its protagonist. I would rather watch a film dedicated to Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) floundering his way to up to fame, or of the Thacker twins (Tilda Swinton) trying to outdo one another as they get the latest scoops in gossip. This results in a subpar film overall with only glimpses of how amazing it could have been.
If you love classic Hollywood films and the studios that made them, you won’t hate Hail, Caesar!. If you are not familiar with Old Hollywood, don’t bother watching it.
Hail, Caesar! was released nationwide February 6, 2016.