REVIEW: ‘Hail, Ceasar’ lacks focus

by Chris Sanchez

sanchezch@mnstate.edu

Ah, Hollywood. The entertainment capital of the world. It’s an industry full of dreams and opportunities. It’s also apparently a platform for communism. Wait, what?! Well, this is according to the Coen brothers’ latest film “Hail, Caesar.” The film takes us back to the classic Hollywood era when the studio systems became prominent and so did its movie stars.

Essentially, one could say that there are a bunch of movies going on at the same time, all tying to one person ­– Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) a Hollywood fixer for Capitol Pictures (a fictitious Warner Bros or MGM) that keeps the latest productions in check, particularly it’s bankable stars. This includes Deanna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) who causes difficulties on the set of her new film, while dealing with the up and coming cowboy heartthrob Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich, in a star-making performance) who’s transition from lasso-wrangling hero to romantic leading man, proves a daunting task. Nobody tops the madcap madness more than Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), a buffoonish A-list actor who gets kidnapped and held ransom by communists.

Also involved is a tap dancing showman (Channing Tatum, never better) and an English director (Ralph Fiennes, perfectly cast) who at his wits end with Doyle, can’t seem to display dramatic gravitas for him.

With all the zaniest ensued, the Coen’s go on a limb to make the audience believe that communism became prominent during the golden age of Hollywood. Absurd? Sure, but that doesn’t make it less than entertaining romp. It’s also very Coen-esque: a strange but daffy lark.

One of the best scenes of the film is a Gene Kelly-esque number which shows Tatum as the ultimate Renaissance man: he sings and dances in perfect musical harmony, even better than his performance in “Magic Mike.” Another memorable scene involves a number in which Johansson’s character is in a mermaid tail.

Like some of the Coen’s past films, this one is jammed packed with an all-star cast that pops in and out of the film. Besides those already named, Jonah Hill, Frances Mcdormand, and Allison Pill, also make appearances, but  they don’t get enough screen time for them to really register. This is just one of the few reasons why the plot of “Hail Caesar” begins to lose focus after a while and how in the end it doesn’t hold together.

That’s not to say that there weren’t good things in “Hail, Caesar.” The art direction is gorgeously shot from the legendary Roger Deakins, who makes it look like a 50’s technicolor dream world, as if you were stepping into the set of “Singing in the Rain” or “the Wizard of Oz.”

It’s also a relief that the Coen’s have ventured back to comedy after dealing with bleak subject matter in their last three films. They set out to make an escapist film that’s an ode to Hollywood, with their signature quirkiness and wit. In that case, they’ve succeeded, but with a sharper focus, it could have been the king of tinseltown.

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