The Coen brothers always seem to follow up their serious dramatic works with much more comedic fare. Their first film after Fargo was The Big Lebowski, they released Burn After Reading after winning Oscars for No Country for Old Men and now they’ve followed up the melancholy Inside Lleywn Davis with Hail, Caesar!. Maybe they do this to blow off some steam, because the two brothers always seem to be having a blast when they try for laughs. Hail, Caesar! is certainly not their best work, but it is a lot of fun, as well as a fitting tribute to the magic of movies. The Coen brothers might be getting older, but they still know how to have a good time.

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a producer at Capitol Pictures in the 1950s. One of his biggest jobs is keeping all of the stars in line and making sure the actors and directors are doing what they need to do. Currently, the production company is filming a new motion picture starring Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), one of the biggest names in the industry. Whitlock goes missing one day and Mannix soon discovers that he’s been kidnapped. It’s up to Mannix to get him back, but he also must contend with an impregnated starlet (Scarlett Johansson), a western star transitioning into more dramatic fare (Alden Ehrenreich) and an angry director (Ralph Fiennes). By the time this day is over, Mannix might not want to work in the movie industry any longer.

One has to wonder if the Coens were inspired to write this screenplay based off of their own difficulty getting a film made, because Hail, Caesar! captures the insane circus that Hollywood sometimes turns itself into. Eddie Mannix is far from the most interesting protagonist that the Coens usually concoct – in fact, he’s not really interesting at all – but this is fine because Brolin portrays the straight man caught up in the insanity of those around him. He’s juggling so many balls at once and it’s truly a wonder how he’s able to do so much in one day. Clearly the Coens are telling us that Hollywood can be a mess sometimes, whether it be through crime, politics or shaping stars into a public image. But at the end of the day, this is not a condemnation of Hollywood, but a celebration of it. Clearly making movies is tough, but at the end of the day, there’s nothing quite like it.

The Coens represent the Golden Age of Hollywood by bringing together a stellar ensemble cast of A-list stars. Josh Brolin is fine in the lead role, but despite being the film’s lead character, he doesn’t have as many moments to shine as some of the other stars. In his fourth collaboration with the Coens, George Clooney is perfectly cast as leading man Baird Whitlock. Ralph Fiennes is absolutely hysterical in his small role as prestigious director Laurence Laurentz.  Fiennes has some fantastic line delivery and his character’s interaction with the dim-witted Hobie Doyle is one of the film’s highlights. Speaking of which, Alden Ehrenreich is a scene stealer as the lovable cowboy. He might not be a household name like the rest of the cast, but there’s no doubt that he was perfect for the role. There are other solid performances from Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum and Tilda Swinton, but it’s Jonah Hill who proves to be the one weak point in the cast. His role is distractingly small and one has to wonder if he was really the best choice for this glorified cameo.

Hail, Caesar! doesn’t go for nonstop laughs, but when the Coens try for humor, they’re beyond successful. A sequence involving Frances McDormand and a dangerous projector scores one of the biggest laughs of the film, as does an extended sequence involving a group of sailors on shore leave. It’s great watching these sequences of classic Hollywood films play out in their entirety and the Coens seem to realize that the setting of the film is more important than the story. Some of the film’s themes involving religion and communism might initially seem like they don’t turn into anything substantial, but films from the Coen brothers almost always get better on multiple viewings. Here’s a film that highlights everything right and wrong with Hollywood, while also serving as a loving tribute to the magic of movies themselves.

Hail, Caesar! receives 3/4

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