Hail, Caesar! may not be Ethan and Joel Coen’s best work, but it might be one of their quirkiest.
When the Coen brothers release a new film it’s kind of a big deal. If you’re like me, I fell in love with these directors after seeing Fargo and The Big Lebowski in the 90s. In my mind they have easily become one of the best director/writing duos in the entire industry.
Hail, Caesar! takes place in the golden era of 1950s Hollywood, where big studios rule the day and are essentially film factories, pumping out celluloid on a massive scale. If a movie or television show became a hit, it was purely accidental.
“Hail, Caesar! is a prestige picture with one of the biggest stars in the world,” says Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) a studio fixer for Capitol Pictures.
The studio is working on a large-scale epic film called Hail, Caesar! (Think Ben-Hur or Spartacus) where they are looking to tell the story of Christ but through the perspective of a roman soldier.
Eddie’s job is to put out the fires and essentially be a babysitter for the production. He protects the big stars and deals with all the drama that happens on and off of the studio lot. When big star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) suddenly goes missing, Eddie has a problem of biblical proportions. A ransom note is delivered, asking for $100,000 for Whitlock’s safe return. It’s signed: The Future.
I’m looking for words to best describe this film. Above is a basic description of the story, but prepare yourself to sit through a movie that has many different layers and kooky characters. There is a lot going on, but it’s never confusing or convoluted.
The cast is superb. On screen is a bonfire who’s who of Hollywood A-listers with the likes of Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, and Christopher Lambert all appearing.
Beyond the star names however it’s Josh Brolin who gives the film’s best performance as Eddie Mannix. He does a great job of showing two sides of the character as he tries to walk a tightrope between his loving family life and a crazy, ruthless workplace where he is surrounded by nut jobs.
Another standout is Alden Ehrenreich who comes out of nowhere to give a career-defining performance as cowboy star Hobie Doyle, a drawling hick, who is known for riding horses and performing stunts in Westerns. One day Doyle is told that the studio is going to “re-package” him into a sophisticated romantic leading man – obviously it’s a square peg, round hole.
There’s a great scene between a vexed British director (Ralph Fiennes) and Doyle where they go through countless takes of the line “Would that it ’twere so simple” that will no doubt live forever in comedy lore.
Another stand out is Channing Tatum who’s a knockout as a song-and-dance manwith a political agenda. Tatum’s song and dance routine with a bunch of sailors is what a lot of people are going to be talking about. It will make you want to see an actual musical built around Tatum in the not-too-distant future.
When we look back at George Clooney’s career, history will show that some of his greatest work has been with the Coen brothers playing a complete idiot. And if it’s not broken don’t fix it. Once again Clooney knocks it out of the park as Baird Whitlock. It’s a lot of fun to see him play a bumbling dolt of an actor who loves to tell drinking stories, not care about being kidnapped, and blow lines in a big dramatic scene with a crucified Christ.
Eventually Eddie has to rough him up to make him come to his senses and remind him that the only reason he’s a star is because he is a slave to the studio machine.
That’s one thing the Coens are not. Slaves to the studio. They keep putting out original films that are a joy to watch. Hail, Caesar! is basically a movie with a small amount of plot, but it feels more like a series of vignettes that are all tied together until the film ends abruptly.
You add artists like cinematographer Roger Deakins, or costumer designer Mary Zophres and what you get is a visual orgasm!
Cinema Factoid: The fictional film studio “Capitol Pictures” previously appeared in Barton Fink (1991), another Los Angeles period film from the Coen Brothers. – IMDB
This film is enjoyable and has some funny moments, with a touch of darkness and social commentary hidden beneath the surface. But most of all, it’s a love letter to that era of filmmaking.
Hail, Caesar! is one of those flicks you want to see on the big screen in order to enjoy all of it’s substance. Yes, there are some parts that seem to drag a bit, and the ending is very abrupt, but overall it’s a joy to watch.
As I mentioned above, there are a lot of layers to this movie that will take time to unravel, so maybe we need to see it twice. I know I do. Hail, Caesar! easily gets 4 raindrops out of 5 from me.