Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 106 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 14+. This film about a Hollywood studio trying to keep its stars in line during the mid-20th century has some cursing; gossip about a possibly homosexual affair and the word ‘sodomy’ is used as a threat; a subplot about a child being born to a mother who isn’t sure who the father is; adults smoke cigarettes and drink; a few female characters display cleavage; someone brags about the impact of the atomic bomb and how destructive it is; a joke about homosexual sex; a woman almost chokes and dies; and a man slaps various characters in the face, including a woman.
‘Hail, Caesar!’ imagines the inner dealings of Hollywood during when the studio system ran the town during the early 20th century. The homages to early movie stars are amusing, but the film’s actual point for these shenanigans is unclear—possibly nonexistent.
By Roxana Hadadi
Ethan and Joel Cohen have a lot to say in “Hail, Caesar!”, or so it seems at first. Their film unfolds like stacking dolls, offering up subplots that seem related to each other through musings about the nature of God, the feasibility of Communism, and the manufactured nature of fame. But it all adds up to very little—and even a tap-dancing Channing Tatum can’t make you forget how muddled this is.
Coen brothers’ movies are a category of their own, and how Joel and Ethan Coen explore different styles of filmmaking through experiments with genre have led them to crafting some real winners, like 2010’s “True Grit.” It’s clear that with “Hail, Caesar!” they wanted to return to the Hollywood of the 1950s, when the studio system was the norm in Hollywood: actors were essentially controlled by the studios, available to be moved around like chess pieces through film sets, gossip columns, and manufactured relationships, and had very little individual autonomy. The studio was king, and the actors were just pawns.
The enforcer of this system for Capitol Pictures is Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin, of “Everest”), the Head of Physical Production who is essentially a fixer for the studio. He threatens people who try to make money off the studio’s stars without their permission, he sweet talks gossip columnists into providing the studio with favorable coverage, he keeps the stars in line by reminding them that the studio is essentially their God.
But things get complicated during production of Capitol’s latest massive film, “Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ,” which recreates an interaction between a Roman general and Jesus Christ that altered the life of the former. The Roman general, played by movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney, of “Tomorrowland”), disappears during filming, and it’s revealed that the group that took him wants $100,000 and calls themselves The Future.
What is Eddie to do? He also has to deal with a pregnancy issue for water dancing star DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson, of “Avengers 2: Age of Ultron”) and an image change for cowboy star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich, of “Blue Jasmine”). In fact, it seems like Capitol Pictures would fall apart without him—and if news of Baird’s disappearance gets out, it very well could.
There is, for a movie geek, something inherently interesting in Eddie’s own story, in his role as the man keeping this bizarre, untidy “circus” of people—as one critic of Hollywood says to him—together. But the narrative presents Eddie as this guy to be rooted for without a satisfying explanation for why, and so over time, you don’t hold onto wanting Eddie to succeed. You just want the film to get on with it.
But then the Coen brothers add in so much other stuff—an examination of the nature and identity of God and how it varies between Christianity and Judaism, a consideration of whether Communist thinking had any space in Hollywood, a brief analysis of whether hard work is inherently more rewarding than easy money—that it all gets aimless and feels superficial. Ehrenreich and Johansson give solid performances, Clooney provides great facial expressions, and Tatum gets an extended tap-dancing sequence that makes him even more lovable, but those are moments, not a movie.
For teens who are fans of those older films, “Hail, Caesar!” could be a good nostalgia pick to see with parents and grandparents. But aside from nicely done nods to those old Hollywood films, the whole picture of “Hail, Caesar!” is lacking.
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