2016, PG-13, 100 mins.
2016, PG-13, 100 mins.
Scarlett Johansson as DeeAnna Moran / Channing Tatum as Burt Gurney / Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix / Ralph Fiennes as Laurence Lorenz / George Clooney as Baird Whitlock / Tilda Swinton as Thora Thacker / Thessaly Thacker / Jonah Hill as Joseph Silverman / Frances McDormand as C. C. Calhoun / Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle / Alison Pill as Mrs. Mannix
Written and directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
The Coen Brothers’ HAIL, CAESAR! is not the first time that the sibling directorial team has made a film that has satirized and/or commented on the industry that they work in, nor is it the only film on their resumes to be bathed in 1950’s nostalgia.
wonderful, but decidedly somber INSIDE
LLEWYN DAVIS, HAIL, CAESAR! represents a rousing and pleasant
return to comedic filmmaking waters for the Coens, and the film certainly
contains the directors’ trademark quirkiness and madcap goofiness
through and through. Better yet, HAIL, CAESAR! is a vivacious love letter to a
bygone era in lavish Hollywood filmmaking, during which time the industry
was in a relative Golden Age of crafting mass marketed escapist fare (to
combat the then flourishing TV medium) ranging from lightweight westerns,
bubbly musicals, and lavishly scaled sword and sandal epics.
HAIL, CAESAR! is a movie about movies that loves movies and
reflects its makers’ passion for movies.
the film lacks in an overall cohesive plot it more
than makes up for it in terms of showcasing the Coens letting their
fertile imaginations run wild in recreating the behind-the-scenes
comings-and-goings of a 1950’s movie studio.
Rather wisely, the Coens neither outright mock the Hollywood studio
system of yesteryear (which, to be fair, produced both epically staged
films alongside schlocky and forgettable fare), nor do they unquestionably
place the period on an upper echelon of film-fan hero worship. In a way, HAIL, CAESAR! both respects and ridicules post-war
Old Hollywood as a time when the industry combined bankable stars with
wide appeal and married them with specific genres that harnessed (and
sometimes failed to harness) their respective abilities, all in an effort
to turn a fat profit. Movies
certainly aren’t made the way they were 60 years ago, but the film
easily argues that, in many ways, the film industry hasn’t really
changed all that much in terms of its business model and motives.
CAESAR! reunites the Coens with their NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN star Josh
Brolin, exceedingly well cast here as Eddie Mannix, the head of the
fictitious Capital Pictures, a studio that prides itself on making
quality, “prestige pictures.” Ostensibly
chronicling a day in his arduous work life, the film shows Eddie’s
stressful grind of not only keeping his multiple productions afloat and on
schedule, but also him combating gossip columnists and ensuring that his
biggest stars’ extracurricular activities don’t make headlines.
The biggest film on his docket is, yes, HAIL, CAESAR!, a film
within the film that bares a remarkable resemblance in both subtle and
obvious ways to BEN HUR. The
star of this massive production is the wonderfully named Baird Whitlock
(George Clooney), a mega star with a handsome mug that just happens to be
dumber than a bag of hammers. HAIL,
CAESAR! is the largest film in production for Capital Pictures, leaving
Eddie remarkably stressed when Baird gets kidnapped by Communists, who
demand a $100,000 to release him.
more pressures begin to mount on Eddie’s already heavily burdened
shoulders. He’s being
aggressively courted by Lockheed for a lucrative job, which leaves him
feeling doubtful about his continued work in the film industry.
Then words comes that one of his biggest female stars under
contract DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) has become pregnant out of
wedlock, meaning that her America’s Sweetheart status in the pubic eye
is in jeopardy. Matters get
worse when esteemed director Laurence Lorenz (Ralph Fiennes) is literally
going crazy after being forced to work with a ridiculous unqualified
western matinee idol in Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) in his latest
character-driven costume drama. Rounding
off Eddie’s external pressures are a pair of twin gossip columnists
Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton) that are a constant thorn in
CAESAR!, on purely superficial levels, is a wondrous travelogue film as it
effortlessly transports us to a different time and place in Hollywood’s
history, evoking the Coens' established and considerable skills as
craftsman in conjuring up the past. Not
only is the film a bravura recreation of the Old Hollywood studio system
at work and in full force,
but it also displays great joyous enthusiasm in showcasing the many films
within the film. The Coens
clearly have a considerable amount of unbridled appreciation for the
multiple genres on display here, and HAIL, CAESAR! is at its most euphoric
when it allows the brothers to flirt and dabble with 50’s era
productions. Aside from their
meticulously accurate recreation of Biblical epics, the Coens also bestow
upon us terrific sequences from a Busby Berkeley-like clone and, even
better, a toe-tapping musical (featuring Channing Tatum as a Gene
Kelly-inspired performer) that’s a sublime highlight in the film.
The Coens also revel in portraying Hollywood’s predilection
towards hokey, B-grade westerns that act as a qualitative counterpoint to
the other films mentioned.
of the most delectably agreeable traits of most Coen Brothers comedies is their unique
ability at taking established actors and
allowing them opportunities to make fools of themselves for two hours, and
endearingly so. Regular Coen
Brothers’ alumni George Clooney always has a field day in their films
portraying well meaning, but hopelessly clueless idiots that really have
no idea how deep there are getting into trouble.
Very few actors of Clooney’s stature can play dumb so well. I also admired Ralph Fiennes’ few scenes (arguably too
few), especially one uproarious sequence as he slowly descends into teeth
clenched anger as he desperately tries to get a passably good performance
out of Hobie Doyle (like Clooney, Ehrenreich is stellar at playing an
uncoordinated simpleton). Brolin
has the meatiest role of the bunch, though, and his fairly earnest and mostly
understated performance acts as a nice counterweight to the screwball
antics of the fellow actors around him.
HAIL, CAESAR! becomes quietly enthralling in terms of simply
witnessing this man trying to maintain his sanity considering all of the
insanity that’s permeating his day.
CAESAR! is ultimately more about the Coens being given carte blanche to
blissfully play around in a wonderful period specific sandbox than it is
perhaps about telling a fully engrossing narrative with all of its
multiple pieces gelling together cohesively. There’s no denying that some of the various subplots here
– like Johansson’s Moran and her trying to keep her pregnancy a
tightly guarded secret – are skimpily written, not to mention that I
would have really liked to see more, as mentioned, involving Fiennes’
increasingly agitated director going more bonkers by the minute in trying
to coach an uncoachable actor. Scenes
involving Whitlock and his captors – during which time they pontificate
on God, faith, and the moral corruption of Hollywood movies – display a
willingness on the Coens’ part to dig thematically deeper into their
story, but those scenes sort of end just as they become strangely
compelling. All in all,
there’s a lot going on in HAIL, CAESAR…maybe too much for its own
I came out of the film greatly approving of the tricky balancing act that
it was attempting. Too much
on the nose lampooning of the classic Hollywood studio milieu might have
been aggressively unfunny, whereas too much displayed affection for it
would have greatly watered down the film’s sarcastic edge.
The Coens manage to find that incredibly ethereal middle ground
approach here, and even though HAIL, CAESAR is not in the same league as
their other upper echelon comedies, I was nevertheless fully enamored with its impeccable cast, its rich period detail, and the manner that it
cunningly sends up the film industry while paying respectful homage to it,
which ultimately makes it undeniably charming.
Oh, and a little bit of Coen Brothers zaniness thrown in for good measure here and there goes an awfully long way too.