A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio’s stars in line.
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand, Alison Pill
Rated: PG-13 (some suggestive content and smoking)
By Matt Greene
Coen comedies always boast quick, smart dialogue that rivals the best of early-Hollywood’s screwball heyday. However, their repartee can border on overly-heady, and Hail, Caesar! is no exception. It (somewhat haphazardly) covers topics as numerous and diverse as truth, Hollywood corruption, the odd marriage of Christianity & capitalism, and the misplaced awareness of our own sins. Luckily, none of that really matters, as Hail, Caesar! manages hilarity in spite of its own pretentions. The Coens’ ability to poke fun at their own nihilistic ponderings bolsters this riotous yet complicated love-letter to old Hollywood.
We follow 1950s film-studio fixer Eddie Mannix as he tries to keep his biggest productions on task, all the while dealing with actors and filmmakers who refuse to make his job easy (sloppy casting choices, unplanned pregnancies, abductions). The cast is amazing from top-to-bottom. Brolin carries the film with comedic confidence; Clooney shines in his role as a doofus Heston-esque star; and remember when we all thought Tatum was just dumb eye-candy? We were idiots. However, the standout of the bunch is relative newcomer Ehrenreich, as a uniquely funny good-ole-boy western star in over his head. With each of these characters, the Coens manage to systematically tear down the movie studio system while clearly showing affection for it.
This mimicking of so many different styles shows a skill that cannot be overstated. While I think anyone could like Hail, Caesar!, students of Hollywood history will get extra enjoyment from the regal beauty and attention to detail that propel this period comedy. Despite the overreaching themes and messy editing, the Coens capable filmmaking hands make this a joyously fun farce despite its flaws.
4 out of 5 Stars
By Cole Schneider
The Coen brothers are as interesting and dynamic as any directors in America today. Their first film, “Blood Simple.”, is a crime thriller and their second, “Raising Arizona”, is a live-action looney tune. They’ve constantly been shifting between and assimilating these two broad poles since. With a Coen movie you can always count on crime and humor, but you never know to which tendency they’ll lean—“No Country For Old Men” is funny and “The Big Lebowski” is about a crime, but tonally they’re opposite from those indicators. (Perhaps “Miller’s Crossing” or “Fargo” has best married the two sensibilities?)
You can also count on a period piece setting, an existential crisis, and colorful characters. 1950s-set “Hail, Caesar!” leans more toward farce than serious (think “O Brother Where Art Thou” or “Burn After Reading”, not “The Man Who Wasn’t There” or “Inside Llewyn Davis”) and it centers around a busy-but-capable studio head played by Josh Brolin amid existential despair surrounded by a cast of Hollywood oddities. The Coen’s have always shown a love for film history and their two big influences have been film noir and screwball comedies. “Caesar” implements those elements, but its setting also allows for indulgences into westerns, musicals, epics, and more.
I wish they would have pushed the farcical boundaries even more—I still much prefer their similar 50s-set, “The Hudsucker Proxy”—but they’re having a blast making this movie and it’s truly infectious. Compared to the great Coen movies (most of them!), “Caesar” is too uneven and identity-confused, but I‘d still dare anyone to watch it without smiling. Also, Coen comedies tend to age like wine; a revisit is likelier to help than hurt.
3 out of 5 Stars