Advertised as a comedy staring a high profile ensemble, this movie turned out to be a mess of an homage/satire of 1950’s Hollywood. I should warn you that this article contains some spoilers, but this is a movie that I don’t feel bad at all about spoiling.
The movie follows a day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) a Hollywood fixer working for Capitol Pictures in the 1950s. I am unsure of the extent to which this character is based on the Eddie Mannix that worked for MGM studios back in the day. Mannix’s day involves keeping the studio’s stars and starlets happy and out of trouble. Since the studio employs a colorful cast of characters, it makes that job very interesting. There’s Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the studio’s high profile leading man and dramatic lead. Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), a young country star that the studio is transitioning from being a simple rodeo cowboy to a serious star. DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), glamorous on screen and in the papers, but lewd and promiscuous behind the scenes. Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) a simple minded star, who’s great at singing and dancing. There’s also a pair of scoop-hunting twins (played by Tilda Swinton) who make it a practice to show up at the studio trying to dig up dirt on the stars.
Mannix is actually being recruited away from what’s deemed to be a crumbling Hollywood scene, but that takes a back seat when an unwitting Baird is kidnapped by communists and held for ransom. The investigation and the coverup take Mannix all over the studio lot. He drops in on a bunch of different celebrities who are all filming different staples of a stumbling Hollywood in the 1950’s. Baird was working on a film about a Roman following the crucifixion of Jesus that seems like it was pulled form Charlton Heston’s catalogue. DeeAnna, who is trying to cover up another pregnancy outside of marriage, is starring in a water ballet that would’ve likely starred Esther Williams in real life. Burt is doing a stellar Gene Kelly impersonation in a movie about dancing sailors that seems to have some very confused sexual undertones. There’s also a few westerns, high society dramas and something starring a young, exotic looking starlet.
Then things turn really bizarre. To be fair, the entire movie is bizarre and a bit of a mess, but this is where things really take a hard turn. Baird was kidnapped by communists, but they’re a group comprised mostly of writers who took joy in sneaking communist propaganda into Hollywood films. He starts a dialogue with them and ends up kind of trying to join their cause before Mannix literally smacks some sense into him. Burt is inexplicably revealed to be the leader of the communist group and takes the ransom money for Baird. Then, I kid you not, he drops the money into the ocean while boarding a submarine when his toy dog jumps into his arms. After all of this foolishness basically resolves itself, Mannix just goes about his business and starts the next day all over again, reassured that this is the business for him.
At this point, when you see that the Coen’s are attached to a project, you should expect a certain amount of weirdness. That being said, this was a different kind of weirdness than what I was expecting. The advertising for the movie made it seem like the comedy from this movie was going to come from the ensemble. Instead, it’s coming from the commentary that this movie is trying to make on classic Hollywood. For the most part, the actors in this movie are just doing over-the-top impressions of famous MGM actors or actor archetypes from the time period. It was cute in that the actors were mostly playing the kind of actors they would’ve been typecast alongside in that era. Unfortunately, it didn’t give the actors much to do in the sense of actually playing a character. It felt more like watching them get a chance to do some individual skits set in different genres, where the names of the people they were playing weren’t really that important.
What was even worse was that Clooney and Johansson where playing characters that were fairly off putting. Clooney playing the distinguished lead that was really rather dimwitted in the grand scheme of things. Johansson certainly looked the part of a classic beauty but the accent she was using was like nails on a chalkboard. The best thing about her character was her one scene with Jonah Hill’s fall guy character, who was criminally underused in this movie. Tatum at least got to show off his dancing abilities in the movie, but that was a scene that could’ve easily been a youtube tribute or something. The most charming characters in the whole thing were the young couple of Hobie Doyle and Carlotta Valdez (Veronica Osorio), but they’re story goes mostly nowhere. Really, most of the story ideas that are introduced aren’t very well developed. It actually took until the last scene of the movie for me to realize that the movie was supposed to be about Mannix. Up to that point, I was trying to figure out what story the movie was trying to tell.
This is a movie for people that are fans of the history of movies and Hollywood. There is a ton of stuff in this movie that satirizes the state of Hollywood both in the past and now. The types of terrible movies that are being pumped out by the studio, the fear of communism infringing on the entertainment industry, and an industry being run by thugs are just a few things that the film hits on. Aside from that, there’s so many little things that mark the time period and the movies of the day. I even wondered if the Valdez character was a reference to the dead woman in Vertigo. If a movie with those kinds of references and lightly poking fun at old Hollywood sounds intriguing to you, this is your kind of movie. However, I have to imagine that the amount of people who fit into that category is pretty small. So small that I wonder how or why a studio green-lit this movie to be made to begin with, especially since it’s just as silly as the type of movies it spoofs.
Hail, Ceasar! (2016)
- satirricaly commentary of classic hollywood
- Fun dance routine by Channing Tatum
- Story is very confusing. It feels more a montage of different scenes than a cohesive story.
- Characters are largely unlikeable