Hail, Caesar! (2016) review

Released: February 5, 2016. Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen. Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson. Runtime: 1hr, 46 min.

I love the work of Joel and Ethan Coen because of their sense of humour and great tales. The pair of directors follow up Inside Llewyn Davis with a period piece set in the 1950s, Hail, Caesar!

The film follows a day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a fixer at Hollywood production lot Capitol Pictures. He navigates through arising issues, like a production needing a new star actor.

He also has to navigate through the rare kidnapping of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the star of the production company’s biggest movie of the year, Hail, Caesar!

It’s a cool commentary on the capitalism of Hollywood in the 1950s. There’s lots of communism in the film, and a group of communist writers, especially David Krumholtz, are quite amusing. It’s a good companion piece to their 1991 film Barton Fink, also set in 1950s Hollywood.

Caesar is mainly notable for its hilarious moments. From clever banter between Ralph Fiennes’ character Laurence Laurentz and Alden Ehrenreich’s wild west actor Hobie Doyle to a fun discussion between religious figures of how to properly portray Christ in the film; these stand as memorable scenes.

Hail, Caesar! Baird Whitlock

George Clooney as Bair Whitlock in Hail, Caesar! (Source)

There’s also an entertaining musical number featuring Channing Tatum. He steals multiple scenes in the entertaining romp. It might be surprising to hear a Coen film described as a romp as they’re known for darker humour.

The Coen brothers resist and don’t go nearly as dark as they could have, which is atypical but likely necessary since it is just a harmless comedy musical with a bit of mystery (but nonsensical mystery).

But it seems to be their first feel-good feature, in the traditional sense. Simply because with what may seem like a caper doesn’t amount to much.

I saw the film on Feb. 7 and I’m still trying to decipher what the heck the point of the film is. That’s why I think it’s a good companion piece for Barton Fink, because I didn’t think that one made a hell of a lot of sense, either.

It feels like the point of the film was to keep you entertained throughout so you wouldn’t notice that the actual story-line is as fragile as one of Hobie Doyle’s spaghetti lassos. But the laughs are the only thing saving the film from a near-disaster.

Hail, Caesar! Scar Jo

Scarlett Johansson in Hail, Caesar! (Source)

Josh Brolin gives a fun performance as Eddie Mannix, where he goes from sneaking cigarettes and confessing at Church to him getting a job offer so he doesn’t have to make long hours or solve problems for the Hollywood types.

He navigates through getting director Laurence Laurentz (Fiennes) a new star for his drama (in the form of Hobie Doyle, who can only act on a horse) to helping save the reputation of a starlet, DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson).

It’s an episodic story-line, but the laughs offered throughout make it well-worth it. Caesar is also stunningly shot by Roger Deakins, using a 35mm film to shoot the period piece. Some scenes are more breathtaking than others, notably the aforementioned Tatum dance scene.

But my favourite, in terms of cinematography, was the scene with Scarlett Johansson as a mermaid in an aquatic dance number, surely emulating a scene from 1952’s Million Dollar Mermaid.

The said scene is shot with a live orchestra – though, it doesn’t have nearly the same mesmerizing effect as when it was matched with Jamie N Commons’ Rumble and Sway in the film’s trailers. The score by Carter Burwell is good.

Hail, Caesar! Channy

Channing Tatum in his big musical number in Hail, Caesar! (Source)

Tilda Swinton appears in an amusing dual role as identical twin gossip columnists trying to get the scoop on the daily on-goings of the studio. They want to run a column on an on-set story about Baird Whitlock on the set of On Wings as Eagles (amusingly, the title’s utterance cues an eagle’s shrill).

Clooney is funny as Whitlock and the ensemble cast is great. Alden Ehrenreich is also a lot of fun as the B-movie Western actor Doyle. Michael Gambon (Harry Potter) offers soothing narration, and Frances McDormand and Jonah Hill are good in their one-scene appearances.

Despite the fact that Hail, Caesar! has sporadic greatness, it is a blemish in the Coen canon because of how average it can be. By the end of the rather anti-climactic film, I couldn’t help but ask: “That was it?”

3.5 out of 5