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Hail, Caesar! •1/2

Hail,_Caesar!_Teaser_posterStarring: Josh Brolin,  George Clooney,  Alden Ehrenreich
Director: Ethan Coen,  Joel Coen
Screenplay: Ethan Coen,  Joel Coen
Comedy/Mystery, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 106 minutes
Release Date: February 5, 2016


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All hail the conquering movie review. It’s time to review Hail, Caesar.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Hail, Caesar is a hell of a Caesar. Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who is a big-time movie producer at fictional Capital Pictures in 1951. He’s a busy guy with several pictures in the works. His first stop is a back-alley photographer’s studio where his pin-up star Gloria DeLamour (Natasha Bassett) is being photographed in compromising positions. Before the cops arrive, he feeds Gloria a cover story that explains why she’s there. This is just the beginning of Eddie’s day and it isn’t even light out yet.

The studio is currently filming an elaborate production called Hail, Caesar, starring the famous Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). Two extras in the film kidnap Whitlock and take him to a group of communists who want to take down Capital Pictures. Meanwhile, western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is being groomed as a more traditional dramatic actor by famous director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), who realizes it’s a lost cause.

Scott, Hail, Caesar is a veiled look at 1950’s movie making. The titular film within a film Hail, Caesar closely resembles Ben Hur making Clooney a faux Charleton Heston. There’s a subplot where DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) is an unmarried pregnant swimming star actress – an allusion to Esther Williams. The western kid, Hobie Doyle, is Roy Rogers and Channing Tatum tap dances a gay frolic in a nod to Gene Kelly.

This all would have been a fun romp if only the whole thing made sense. For the most part, this is a movie about Mannix running from problem to problem with what should be witty situations. But there is never a punch line. Tatum’s character is rowed out to sea by the Communist writers and boards a Soviet submarine. It has no bearing on the plot and is supposed to be some sort of joke about the blacklisting of artists in the 1950’s and 60’s. I found the whole thing both bizarre and confusing.

I agree, Greg. The Coen brothers badly miscalculated here. I’m trying to figure out their rationale for producing this movie. Did they want to show us how bad the acting was back in the 1950s? Did they want to remind us of that era’s values regarding women, religion, and communism? Did they want to show us that movies once featured tap-dancing sailors, singing cowboys, and huge synchronized swimming ensembles?

There’s very little of value in this movie. It wasn’t entertaining to watch George Clooney pretend to be a bad actor. There’s a reason why today’s movies aren’t about tap-dancing sailors or swimming starlets — these scenes are no longer interesting to modern audiences. Most problematic is the fact that there is no hero story to be found in Hail, Caesar. Baird Whitlock starts out a fool and remains one. Eddie Mannix is a movie studio problem solver at the outset, and he remains one. Hobie Doyle is a simpleton from start to finish. This movie is a strange collection of scenes that add up to nothing.

The hero is Eddie Mannix. He has all manner of challenges with the screwball crew of actors he has to wrangle. But as far as a transformation, it’s hard to gauge what he’s working on. One of his challenges is the opportunity to go to work for a defense contractor as a manager. The lifestyle would be easier and the money better, but Mannix loves the job he’s doing. Ultimately, he chooses to stay with the movie company, despite the toll it takes on him physically and his family life. I don’t know if this is a transformation, as he pretty much ends up where he started. But at least he’s resolved an issue of internal turmoil.

The supporting characters, as I said, are a variety of nut cases. But they are all cut from the same cloth. As actors they are self-centered and oblivious to the workings of the world around them. As such, they make for a sort of hydra-character – multiple heads but one body. That is, they are all one supporting character which is the trouble child. I will make one exception to that. The western kid, Hobie Doyle, turns out to be a very sharp tack in the bunch. When Whitlock is abducted, it’s Doyle who knows how to deal with the bad guys and gives advice to Mannix. He’s not quite a mentor, but it is at least a confidante.

Greg, forgive me if I launch into the ratings for this movie right away. The less said about Hail, Caesar, the better. The film is an odd mix of vignettes about the movie industry from a bygone era, and it’s a mix that offers neither a coherent message nor any entertainment value. The Coen brothers usually deliver the goods, and so I’m scratching my head wondering what they missed or what I missed. Based on what I saw, this movie disappoints on the level of storytelling, character development, and the hero’s journey. I’m sorry to give Hail, Caesar one single Reel out of 5.

There is no hero’s journey, and so let’s assign the movie 1 Hero out of 5 and then go right to the rating of the mentors in the story. Oh wait — there is no story, and so there are no mentors. I suppose it could be argued that Mannix is a mentor figure, as he counsels people here and there, and he even tells Baird Whitlock to get his act together at the very end. He should have told the Coen brothers to get their act together. We never see any lasting fruits of Mannix’s mentoring labors, if you can call them that. Mannix the much maligned mentor merits a metric of 1 Mentor out of 5.

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That’s alright Scott. Hail, Caesar is a confusing mass of conflicting impulses (that’s for all you Star Trek fans out there). There is very little plot and what little there is not coherent. Over the last five years we’ve been viewing movies we’ve seen a pattern of movie releases.

May through September are the summer blockbusters. October is for scary movies. November and December are the doldrums except for arthouse films that are in limited release to qualify for the Oscars. January films are the Oscar hopefuls that were released at the end of December to just qualify for nomination. Then there’s February, March, and April. These are the dregs of the film schedule and Hail, Caesar falls nicely into that range. I award it 2 out of 5 Reels since I appreciated the craft necessary to reflect back on the golden age of filmmaking, if I didn’t enjoy the story.

Eddie Mannix is an interesting guy with a number of challenges and a constant set of inner conflicts. When we rate a hero we look for a problem to solve and a transformation. Mannix has an inner problem – whether to take a cushy job. But he doesn’t have much of a transformation. While he comes to peace with the life he’s chosen, he’s very much the same fellow at the end as at the beginning. I give him 2 out of 5 Heroes.

And this year we’re rating mentor characters. The role of the mentor is to guide the hero in his quest. Aside from the one time he asks Hobie Doyle for advice, Mannix is mentorless. He’s very much an island unto himself. He enjoys the chaos that the studio imposes on his life and ultimately he chooses that life. But he does it largely alone and so the mentor character is quite absent, and the story suffers for it. I give Hail, Caesar 0 out of 5 Mentors.

 Movie: reel-2 Mentor: Zero_Skateboards_Skull_Logo Hero: h-logo-2

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