Review: Hail, Caesar!

For as long as I can remember, I have always been puzzled by the films of Joel & Ethan Coen after viewing them. Whether it was a classic like The Big Lebowski or Fargo, something profound and recent like Inside Lleywn Davis, their remake of True Grit, A Serious Man or their Oscar winning picture No Country for Old Men, after viewing a Coen Brother motion picture I have to take the time to wrap my head around what I saw and whether or not I liked what I saw.

Their new picture Hail, Caesar! is no exception. Featuring an all-star ensemble Hail, Caesar! follows a day in the life of Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix as Capitol Pictures is about to wrap production on their big-budget prestige picture titled “Hail, Caesar”. All is going swimmingly until the star of the show, Baird Whitlock, vanishes.

Image by Universal

Mannix spends his day running around the lot putting out fires left and right in terms of casts and crews, attending meetings but when he discovers that Whitlock has been kidnapped, he desperately fights the urge to light a cigarette and utilizes whatever resources he can muster to find his star before anyone, particularly the Thacker twins, find out and put it in the papers and scandal ensues.

After attending a screening of Hail, Caesar! I pondered what was this? A gag, a prestige picture, an homage to 1950s cinema, their own creative spin of film history, another high-brow dark comedy from the Coen Brothers? I cannot say for certain. Maybe its all of these things and none of them.

I can say that the Coen Brothers have always been intelligent storytellers. I have always been drawn to their ability to craft a story with wit, humor, savvy, and sharpness and they are true masters of dark humor as much as they are masters of filmmaking.

Hail, Caesar! is many things but at the crux of its construction is the Coen Brothers’ wit, ingenuity and passion for the art and history of filmmaking and what’s more could be described as an ode to making movies for even though making movies takes so much away from the artist in question personally, and the non-stop interaction with so many personalities, the attempt to bring entertainment and culture to different avenues of life is rewarding in of itself and this is best exemplified through Josh Brolin’s character Mannix.

Mannix is in a never-ending parade at his job and it takes him away from his family, but he has a way out through a job offer with Lockheed and he flirts with taking it. He works tirelessly to make sure that the pictures he is marketing find success as evidenced through his sit-down with religious figures to determine whether the Christ figure in “Hail, Caesar” (the movie within the movie not the movie itself) won’t offend any religious audiences when it is released.

It goes without saying that this star-studded cast will draw audiences to Hail, Caesar! There’s George Clooney, Brolin, Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum, the narration of Michael Gambon, Alden Ehrenreich, Christopher Lambert, Hail Caesar! has a galaxy of stars and all of them are very well featured in the Coen Brothers story.

Though Hail, Caesar! isn’t based on a true story it does draw a lot of inspiration from a lot of historical references, i.e. Scarlett Johansson’s mermaid sequence reminded me of Busby Berkley’s style, also Baird Whitlock’s abduction by communists could be a reference to how the Communist party attempted to ingratiate itself into Hollywood society.

The writing and directing live up to the Coen Brothers’ standard, as is the editing of the Coen Brothers Roderick Jaynes. Roger Deakins’ cinematography never disappoints, Carter Burwell’s score is adequate, Jess Gonchor’s production design is amazing, Cara Brower and Dan Swiderski’s art direction definitely gave this movie the classic 1950’s tone and Mary Zophres’ costumes were fantastic.

Image by The Conversation

Again, Hail, Caesar! is many things but at the end of the day it’s a means for the Joel and Ethan Coen to demonstrate their cinematic savvy and intelligence and I feel confident enough to say that the demonstration known as Hail, Caesar! worked on me. Probably because I dedicated a few years of my higher education to better understand the history and cultural significance of 1950s cinema but I respected Hail, Caesar! completely.

I’m not sure others will understand where the Coens will come from with Hail, Caesar! and again, it is many things at once but I certainly found value with Hail, Caesar!

 

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