Mix the colorful world of 1950s Hollywood and the chaos that always accompanies any creative endeavor with some of the well-known faces of the silver screen, and the eccentric Coen brothers’ new film “Hail, Caesar!” will be the product.
“Hail, Caesar!” was released Friday to high expectations based on earlier Joel and Ethan Coen successes (“The Big Lebowski,” “Fargo”) and a sparkling trailer for the film that featured a wide array of names varying from George Clooney to Channing Tatum to Tilda Swinton.
The film slices off a day in the life of the 1950s-era company Capital Pictures and presents it in all of its wacky glory to modern day audiences. With Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a Hollywood fixer who seems to hold the entire Capital enterprise together at the helm, the movie goes on on a wild ride through the production highs and lows of a number of feature films, including the kidnapping-for-ransom hoax, the pacification of the hungry Hollywood press and the training of a cowboy attempting to turn serious actor.
Most striking are the film’s whimsical characters and unique comedic moments — both typical elements of Coen brothers productions. Audiences are sure to find a character that applies specifically to themselves in their personality traits, habits and trials due to the wide array of very different personas given screen time. Lines are played for laughs that are well-earned and timed perfectly, although humor overall almost takes a backseat in the film’s attempt to include as many elements of the realm behind the silver screen as possible.
Less striking is the film’s somewhat disorganized plot line and chain of events. The abundance of themes and characters leaves “Hail, Caesar!” lacking in continuity and sometimes in depth. However, the nature of the film as a slice-of-life treatise on the bustling subculture of a movie studio in the Golden Age of Hollywood made this rather chaotic movie feel bearable and enjoyable.
The sets and wardrobe of the film are beyond compare and sparkle off of the screen. The costuming is painstakingly accurate to character and era and dazzling in color palette while the sets and fonts are deliciously retro. Audiences will experience the unashamed adoration of old Hollywood — the enthusiasm of the aesthetic in "Hail, Caesar!" functions as an ode to a golden era of the past. The film flits through mid-century film stereotypes with abandon and features a musical number barely recognizable from “Singin' in the Rain" in an epic biblical scene that only lacks Charlton Heston himself and a hang-em-high cowboy star that could be identified at first glance as Roy Rogers.
Although this film will not go down as a Coen brothers masterpiece at the level of “The Big Lebowski” or any other of their past hits, "Hail, Caesar!” is a film worth seeing simply for the 1950s ground it covers, the quirky characters and the luscious aesthetic. The absence of an overall theme, overt character or story arcs and deep exploration into characters and their backgrounds is overpowered by relatable plot points, comic roles and a sweeping portrayal of '50s entertainment.
“Hail, Caesar!” might not be an overwhelming triumph for the Coens, but it manages to entertain modern viewers with an adoring look at a past era, provide a vibrant and lighthearted look at an industry and combine a widely varied cast with no actor seeming out of place — all elements that create a film that, while it might not entirely satisfy, will most certainly not disappoint.