"Hail, Caesar!" Movie Review Essay
Back in 1984, the Coen Brothers debuted with Blood Simple, a terrifying suspense film. It was followed by the whack-a-doodle comedy Raising Arizona and then the magnificent and gritty Miller’s Crossing. Along the way they also gave us movies as disparate as The Hudsucker Proxy, O Brother Where Art Thou, and Inside Llewyn Davis.
Show of hands– if you didn’t know better, would you ever guess that the same people who made Burn After Reading also re-made True Grit in 2010?
Aside from the “sad sack” theme that prevails through their filmography and their penchant for recycling many of the same actors, there’s not much that joins the Coen Brothers films together– you never know quite what you’re going to get. But more often than not you can rest assured it will be among the better films of the year.
Hail Caesar! is their seventeenth film, and it keeps the streak going. And it brilliantly follows the Coen Brothers formula of not following any formula.
Josh Brolin stars as 1950s Hollywood “fixer” Eddie Mannix (though, in typical Coen Brothers form, any relation to the real-life 1950s Hollywood “fixer” Eddie Mannix is purely coincidental). Hail Caesar! follows Mannix through 28 hours of heading off scandals and solving crises on movie sets. He has a unmarried, pregnant star (Scarlett Johansson) to deal with, a ridiculously awful actor (Alden Ehrenreich) who’s destroying a film, and twin sister reporters (Tilda Swinton) breathing down his neck. And that’s all before his biggest star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is drugged and kidnapped by a kindly band of Communists.
And did I mention the phenomenal song-and-dance number Channing Tatum performs halfway through? Or that Mannix picked a hell of a day to try to quit smoking?
The Coens’ screenplay is a brilliantly esoteric bit of fun, rife with quick head-scratching moments, jolting edits, and seemingly throw-away conversations, but by the time the end credits start rolling, everything has coalesced into a marvelously cohesive story. As zany as some of the subplots feel, you can’t shake the thought that it’s not too far from the truth. And the brothers’ decision to shoot Hail Caesar! on 35mm film (with the masterful Roger Deakins manning the camera) only adds to the authenticity, giving the film a spot-on, vintage feel.
Cameos abound, all manner of jabs are thrown at Hollywood, and Carter Burwell yet again provides a whimsical score. Together it all adds up to another Coen Brothers gem– not on the level of Fargo or No Country for Old Men, mind you, but Hail Caesar! may just end up being one of the more subtly hilarious films to come along this year.