By Adam Ray Palmer
The first film and opening night premiere of the 66th Berlinale is the Coen Brothers’ comedy-caper Hail, Caesar!
Hail, Caesar! stars a plethora of talent including George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson and Ralph Fiennes – most of whom are in attendance at this year’s festival.
Expectations were high and there is a buzz around the festival about this monstrous production, but does it live up to the hype? Let me tell you…
Hail Caesar! follows a day in the life of Eddie Mannix, a Hollywood fixer for Capitol Pictures in the 1950s. Eddie cleans up and solves problems for big names and stars in the industry; but when studio star Baird Whitlock disappears, Mannix has to deal with more than just the fix.
The brash Eddie Mannix is played by Josh Brolin and Baird Whitlock’s character is given to smooth ladies’ man George Clooney for a fourth time by the Coen Brothers. The film revolves largely around their story. Their narrative features a group of communist writers who kidnap the intelligence-lacking Baird Whitlock and hold him hostage while indoctrinating him in the evils of capitalism. The problem here is that the other side-plots including Fiennes and Alden’s acting duel-off plus Scarlett Johansson’s personal life’s difficulties are more appealing if given the chance to thrive.
In addition, Clooney doesn’t really deliver in Hail, Caesar! – he’s been given the dumb guy role once again that has served him well in the past with brothers’ films but here he seems lacklustre. I think if ‘thick-witted’ Clooney had swapped roles with the ‘clued-up and ruthless’ Brolin we could have had an even better movie.
As this is ultimately Eddie's story; everyone else just seems a hindrance to his day yet we want to know about their stories more. The film often feels manic and imbalanced due to the sub-plots entwining.
The rule to an imbalanced film though? Make the sub-plots brilliant – and the Coens did. As Mannix drifts between films sets that represent a different world each time, Eddie seems to transform into a brash and confident man that knows exactly what he’s doing. He saves the day in every scene and never feels the stress – until he goes to his catholic confession each day for his sins of smoking.
As good as Brolin is, there’s three scenes that stick in my mind and he is only in one. The other two are sheer brilliance yet completely different. One is a musical scene where Channing Tatum and a group of sailors do a huge production number set in a bar. The dancing and directing is on-point and humorous. It just makes me want to see the Coens shoot a whole musical.
The other is completely reversed compared to the musical scene as Ralph Fiennes plays eccentric director Laurence Laurentz who attempts to teach miscast cowboy star Alden Ehrenreich a few lines in a refined, period love story. Comedy ensues as Alden struggles and you wait for a punchline to the gag there and then, but true to the Coens’ style, it falls under the radar only to return later in the film for a larger belly-laugh.
The best scene with Josh Brolin comes when he is thrashing out a movie script with a rabbi, a Catholic, a Protestant and a clergyman about the religious messages in his big-budget film starring Whitlock. The dialogue is slick, hilarious and memorable. My favourite line is “god is just a bachelor, and he is angry” – it’s uproarious.
In the end though, there’s too much going on in Hail, Caesar! to become a classic comedy. There’s a few scenes that are top drawer but it all gets a bit too crazy. It’s better than Burn After Reading but you just feel the Coen Brothers are letting out a bit of silliness before cracking on with an important project.
The film is definitely entertaining but I feel Joel and Ethan could have made better use of the impressive cast, perhaps had more cameos than full on acting roles like Jonah Hill’s skit. Hail, Caesar! might be better placed on the small screen to fully feel it’s slick-paced effect. Nevertheless, it’s worth checking out for the stellar scenes mentioned above.
Cineroom’s Rating: 3 Stars
Hail, Caesar! is released in selected cinemas in the UK on 17th February – Certificate 12A/15