March 4, 2016

Movie review: Hail Caesar!

The Coen brothers go behind the scenes in 1950s Hollywood

The Coen brothers have had a long history of making popular cult films that are both aesthetically pleasing and character driven, and Hail, Caesar! is a fine example of their hard labor. Although the film does lack in substance and plot at times, these moments are compensated for by the snappy 1950s décor and style that should earn several award nominations and possibly a few wins, as well as the massive cast of A-listers.

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
With Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes and Channing Tatum

Hail, Caesar! is first and foremost, a movie about movies, based on movies of Hollywood’s golden age of movies. Narrated by Professor Dumbledore, sorry I mean Michael Gambon, this comedy is set in the 1950s with Capitol Pictures (obviously MGM) big-boss Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who cleans up the embarrassing blunders and scandals left by the biggest stars in the industry.

This particular day in Mannix’s life sees Hollywood superstar and heart-throb Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) kidnapped from a tremendously awkward and hilarious film set for the studio’s current big budget epic also called Hail, Caesar!

As Mannix attempts to locate Whitlock, we are introduced to a number of other stars and other lush film sets which transport you directly into the world of old Hollywood.

It wouldn’t be Hollywood without a Western star. and Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) was definitely one of the most memorable characters. He smothers every room with typical southern charm and sports an accent that would even make John Wayne tug at his collar.

George Clooney’s Whitlock is an excited lapdog to the industry and pretty oblivious to everyone and everything around him, and I his character was perhaps a bit too silly.

The silliness doesn’t stop there, Ralph Fiennes plays a director named Laurence Laurentz, and his introduction makes way for one of the funniest scenes in the film. It would seem that these characters were based on real people but the Coens said it didn’t work that way – “We’re not big on research,” Joel reportedly said.

The blend of humor and dialogue in Hail, Caesar! represents the films at that time in Hollywood. Back then, it was all about family oriented fun and cheap laughs and thrills. The Coens themselves grew up in the 1950s and it seems they’ve either consciously or subconsciously projected their nostalgia on us all.

In saying that, the nostalgia of the 1950s and older Hollywood will be felt by many watching this film. Color is a huge player, and the sets are huge pieces of eye candy. There is a mermaid scene with Scarlett Johansson that was out of this world beautiful and meticulously choreographed, as was the sailor dance scene with a very camp Channing Tatum. Tilda Swinton’s ever changing and colorful costumes were also a stand-out, but actually when is she ever not a stand-out?

Hail, Caesar! also shows Hollywood as some kind of gigantic narcissistic church. From the get-go we see a close-up of a crucifix and Mannix in confession. He is ultimately the Christ of Hollywood, and takes the tremendous weight of others on his back.

The stars are his apostles and look to him for advice and also to clean up their mess. Interestingly, Mannix was a real person in this era of Hollywood and was said to look after many, and was even good friends with Clark Gable. Brolin does a superb job, as in every Coen brothers film, this one being his third.

For Coen brothers fans, there are a number of Easter eggs to watch out for including the brief appearance of Francis McDormand as a projectionist.

Hail Caesar! is not No Country for Old Men,nor is it Fargo, but it’s something in between and that’s totally ok. It isn’t totally new ground for the brothers either. They went behind the scenes in Hollywood in Barton Fink, a bizarre Kafkaesque comedy in 1991 that was a critical hit but performed poorly at the box office.

See Hail Caesar!  if you want a laugh, and definitely see it if you’re a fan of movies in general … and see it for the Eddie Mannix perm. It’s a very nice perm.

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