Movie Review: “Hail Caesar” – Needs More Focus

Written by Matt Butler February 19, 2016


Hail Caesar! is a movie made for anyone who loves movies. Whether it’s the countless nods and winks to early-cinema or the backstage b-roll perspectives, Hail Caesar! is a treat for any cinephile. However, while there are some intriguing aspects of the movie, the movie, in and of itself, isn’t very interesting.

Hail Caesar! sets its stage in the 1950s, the Golden Age of Hollywood, with Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix, a Hollywood fixer stocked with keeping various film productions and celebrity scandals under wraps. His responsibilities begin to weigh down upon him when the star of Hail Caesar! (the film within the film), Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), goes missing in action. Mild chaos ensues.


“A truth we could see if we had but…”

With a premise like that, it’s a wonder why Hail Caesar! didn’t get an Oscar season release. After all, it’s an actor-centric, movie-centric period piece (it’s also blindingly white!). I feel certain that’s the audience the Coens were aiming towards, the critics and movie buffs, and while it has a lot to offer that crowd, its cavalcade of Hollywood in-jokes may leave the general audience member clueless. Those in the know will get a kick out of the film for sure, but it’s too stuck in its own world and context to bridge with a larger audience.


“The truth, yes…”

But then again, satisfying the general audience isn’t what the Coen Brothers are about. While I can’t say for certain what they ARE about (having only seen this, Fargo, Oh Brother Where Art Thou?, The Big Lebowski and Inside Llewyn Davis), I do know they like to make intellectually challenging films, and Hail Caesar! is no different. As this review/analysis from one of my favourite youtube movie buffs, Sage Rants, discusses, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface of this movie. [SPOILERS IN THE VIDEO]

My concern, however, is predominantly with entertainment value, of which this movie distributes in spurts. There are three standout scenes I can think of. The first is when Eddie is discussing Hail Caesar’s depiction of Christ with various religious leaders, which ends in useless squabbling. It’s a straightforward commentary on subjectivity, how the fidelity and quality of a product are ultimately decided by the viewers rather than the creator. The second is when actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is given exasperated direction from Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) on how to pronounce the ironic line “Would that it were so simple”. It’s a wonder the trailer didn’t spoil this clever joke. The third scene is when Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) goes full Gene Kelly with the out of left field song-and-dance number, ‘No Dame’. All these scenes showcase Hail Caesar! at its best, when it’s at its most indulgent. What keeps these great moments limited though is a script that juggles Hollywood farce with communist kidnapping and personal drama. I feel that if the movie was one or the other, or the perspective was limited to Mannix, we’d have a solid footing in the story. As is, there’s just too many things happening.


“Would that it TWERE so simple”

Hail Caesar! is a wickedly original think-piece worthy of the Coen Brothers name. Its only vice is that it lacks the focus necessary to demand its deserved attention. If you’re willing to dig deep into this movie, there’s plenty to be found, but if you’re looking for something as smart as it is entertaining, then I’d say The Big Lebowski might be more up your alley.

My Rating: 6.5/10

hail, Caesar!

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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