By Murphy Kenefick, Columnist
The Coen Brothers are known for throwing bizarre casts of characters into hectic environments and letting the audience watch them grapple with choices and consequences. The most notable of these were seen in “The Big Lebowski,” “Fargo,” and most recently “Inside Llewyn Davis.” These situations create narratives completely unique to these filmmakers, making them some of the most revered pair of authors in the business today.
Naturally, “Hail, Caesar!” came with a lot of expectations. Bolstered by an all-star cast including George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson and many more, “Hail, Caesar!” revolves around a 1950’s Hollywood fixer, Eddie Mannix (Brolin) who has to juggle his duties involving eccentric actors and filmmakers along with his moral obligations. This is a seemingly typical setup for the Coens, especially when the most prominent movie star of the time (Clooney) is kidnapped, calling back to previous hostage situations in the Coens previous films (“Raising Arizona,” “Fargo”). However, in this new venture, the focus is not exclusively on that plot point, but rather takes an eclectic look at the moving wheels of Hollywood.
Balancing persnickety directors, troubled actors and cynical gossip columnists, our morally upright protagonist does his absolute best to sweep as much under the rug as possible, such as unwanted children, questionable casting decisions and the representation of Christ in the titular film, “Hail, Caesar!” There is a strong theme of religion in this film as Mannix spends much time in the confessional, grieving over his seemingly petty sins. He also conferences with several religious leaders on the best way to portray Jesus in the studio’s newest blockbuster. All this conversation and frantic confusion leads to the question: Why do we spend so much time trying to do what we think is good when it is most likely unfixable? This question is addressed by the characters — some of them aware, some of them gleefully unaware, all guided by Jewish writers who have an outside perspective.
Many of the Coen’s films present the question of “Why?” and they continue to ask this giving little answer. “Hail, Caesar!” deals with these themes more sloppily than their previous works. This might have been the point, seeing as this film wanted to be seen more as a period comedy as opposed to something more grave like “A Serious Man.” It is certainly bizarre, but the humor was not as strong as it has been, and this might only be the result of high expectations on my end.
However, as a whole, “Hail, Caesar!” is a solid entry into the Coen’s filmography, albeit not the most memorable. It does not exude that seamless wisdom blended with dark humor as well as they are known for, but electric performances and some sharp plot turns make for a hugely entertaining trip back in time.