Review: 'Hail, Caesar!' offers A-list cast, classic Coen Brothers style

Video by Universal Pictures

“Hail, Caesar!” a comedy written by Joel and Ethan Coen, features many of the same styles of older Coen Brother’s films but never seems to really go anywhere. 

The film premiered in Los Angeles on Feb. 1 and opened worldwide Feb. 5. The film features a wide array of actors within the cast including Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum. 

“Hail, Caesar!” follows Eddie Mannix, a Hollywood executive for Capitol Pictures during the 1950s. His basic work is to keep the actors and directors in line and looking good in the public eye. He battles curious reporters, kidnappers and impassioned artists to keep the studio up and running. 

A wrench is thrown into the gears when Baird Whitlock (played by George Clooney), the star of an almost-completed film about the crucifixion of Christ, is kidnapped. A group of ex-Hollywood writers-turned-communists kidnap Whitlock for ransom, and Mannix has to figure out how to solve the unprecedented situation. 

The movie is a satirical period piece that pokes fun at the era along with other concepts, such as religion. The motif of religion threads its way throughout the film, as the Coen Brothers seem to play on its arbitrary nature. 

The opening scene asks experts of various religions (e.g., a priest, rabbi, etc.) if the scene of Christ’s crucifixion is offensive, and each leader gives a different answer. 

Then a producer asks the actor playing Jesus if he wants a hot or cold lunch; the seriousness of religious conviction is called into question.

Mannix, a man of faith, is further an instrument of satire when, towards the end of the film, he visits a church to confess. He had confessed to the same priest a little over a day ago and the priest started to get annoyed with Mannix’s compulsive visits. What did Mannix’s need to confess?  Coming home late for dinner and slapping a movie star. 

Much of the movie plays on perspective. What looks like a vast landscape is a movie set. An innocent-looking actor is actually a villain. What seems dire is ultimately a petty concern. 

In the larger sense of the movie, the Coen Brothers seem to want to make the statement that most things are arbitrary – the seriousness of one situation or belief can be paramount or hollow depending on whom you ask. Many of Mannix’s “problems” are put under different perspectives throughout the film, and the movie set creates the same illusion.

Although most scenes individually were full of witty dialogue and charismatic characters, the film as a whole didn’t ultimately move anywhere. If you’re expecting a rise, fall and climax of action, don’t hold your breath. The plot is deceptively dynamic at first, but for the most part stays fairly linear. 

Still, if you’re one for engaging character dynamics, sharp satire, an A-list cast and a classic Coen Brothers style, then this movie might be right for you.


Brett Steinberg is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at brett.steinberg@uconn.edu. He tweets @officialbrett.