A light-hearted romp in the park that is true to the Coens’ off-kilter style, even if it doesn’t hold a candle to some of their finer works.
Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
2016 | USA | Comedy/Mystery | 106 mins | 1.85:1 | English
PG (passed clean) for some suggestive content and smoking
Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill
Plot: A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio’s stars in line.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlin). Nom. for 1 Oscar – Best Production Design
Subject Matter: Light
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed in theatres – first published 23 Mar 2016)
The Coens, ever so consistent with their works over the decades, give us one of their less substantial pictures since The Ladykillers (2004). Starring an ensemble cast headlined by George Clooney and Josh Brolin, Hail, Caesar! is a period piece set in Hollywood in the 1950s, a time when long, biblical epics, cheesy, feel-good musicals, and romantic, swashbuckling Westerns were popular fare.
Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, a fixer working at the fictional Capitol Pictures. In the opening scene, he goes to a confession at the church, revealing his sins to a priest. This is a guy with a tonne of problems to solve every day, both personally and professionally. But when Clooney’s character Baird Whitlock, a famous studio actor, disappears without a trace in the middle of the production for the studio’s upcoming prestige picture ‘Hail, Caesar!’, Eddie is faced with a ransom notice and more.
The Coens have made Hail, Caesar! as a lighted-hearted romp in the park. It is accessible entertainment with enough mainstream appeal to entertain general moviegoers, though it is also true to their off-kilter style, which may feel slightly bizarre to this same group of viewers.
“Hey, Obie. You’re a communist, too?”
Much of Hail, Caesar! is Brolin’s film – his performance is a mix of bewilderment and cunningness. Eddie knows that he has problems to fix, but the disappearance of Baird presents a new set of worries that he hasn’t encountered before. He tries to find quiet moments of introspection in church and at home, but can’t seem to find meaning to the cards that he has been dealt with. He is also endlessly pursued by a pair of twin journalists who are at odds with each other – the Coens make a fine distinction between them in a comical way.
Eddie’s dream factory problems is smartly pit against that of a rising, ideological one – the support for communist beliefs in Hollywood. This was the subject matter that concerned Trumbo (2015), but in Hail, Caesar!, it is treated almost like a parody of what we would expect if it was symbolically trivialized to a them-versus-us dialectic.
While Hail, Caesar! doesn’t hold a candle to some of the Coens’ finer works, it is however one of their more entertaining films, something like a loose companion piece to the fun, and at times surprising, Burn After Reading (2008). If you are a fan of the duo, you should give this a go.