HAIL, CAESAR! Review: The Coens Strike Gold with Hollywood’s Golden Age


A Prestige Picture.

It’s really something special to watch a Coen brothers film. These Oscar-winning filmmakers have been making movies since the 80s, and yet they still can’t seem to grasp the general public’s attention (during a trailer for this a few weeks ago, someone in my theater said, “Joel and Ethan who?”) Just goes to show you, really. But some of us film buffs have a deep affection for Joel and Ethan; their ability to blend dark humor with gorgeous and inspired cinematography (by Roger Deakins, almost always), their ability to create memorable characters in every single project, etc. And as one of these film enthusiasts, I can’t help but be giddy every time I see news of a Coen brothers movie being in the works.

In the case of Hail, Caesar!, their latest feature and ode to early Hollywood, they strike gold; this is a masterpiece that may just be the modern film that will decide just who is who in this world of film lovers and Michael Bay-obsessed wannabes.

Much like Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight last year (which didn’t get the Oscar nominations it deserves because it made the white Academy members feel guilty of racism or something), Hail, Caesar! opens with a close up of Jesus hanging on the cross. Only difference is, this time it’s integral to the story. Here, it’s a crucifix in a cathedral, and we are introduced to our main player, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). Eddie is head of production at Capitol Pictures, and he sure is conflicted about a few things: a new job offer from the Lockhead Cooperation as well as his desire and promise to his wife to stop smoking. He’s confessing to a priest, who seems to be fed up with the amount of confessions. This is one regretful man.

His studio, Capitol Pictures, is producing a new film entitled Hail, Caesar!, about Jesus the Nazarene, but through the eyes of an unbeliever played by the infamous Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). In between takes, Whitlock is drugged, kidnapped, and held for ransom by a group called The Future, and that is all the information needed to be obtained because to say anything more would be criminal. This movie is all over the place. When I saw the film once I thought it was messy. Then I saw it again and every single thing about it worked for me. Hail, Caesar! is weird, crazy, intentionally messy, beautifully shot, and straight-up cinematic bliss for anyone that has a passion for cinema.

As Mannix, Josh Brolin turns in one of his best performances, up there with W., No Country for Old Men, and Milk. His character (much like characters in most Coen brothers films) goes through a lot, and Brolin’s range is really fascinating to watch unfold on screen. Equally good is George Clooney, in his funniest performance since Burn After Reading (another great film from the Coens). But the show-stealer here is Alden Ehrenreich, a virtual newcomer who provides endless laughs, especially in his soon-to-be-classic scene with Ralph Fiennes’ Lawrence Lorentz.

One of the best things about Hail, Caesar! is just how funny it is. It’s obvious that the Coens have a history with comedy (almost every one of their films have some laughs, excluding No Country for Old Men), but their latest feels like a natural comedy, providing laugh after laugh after laugh, almost like Burn After Reading. Channing Tatum’s character gets a lot of those laughs, as well as a couple funny scenes with Tilda Swinton and a magnificently wild scene with long-time Coens collaborator Francis McDormand. It’s gonna be quite a task for a 2016 movie to make laugh as much Hail, Caesar! 

It needs to be stated that this is one crazy movie. Some people will be turned off by that, and while I find it inexcusable, it doesn’t surprise me. Not everyone loves movies as much as cinephiles, and when it comes to a movie about making movies, people may not find that intriguing. And much like Hugo (which is similar to this in only one way) and to an extent, Argo, this movie about making movies does contain a plot to keep the audience involved. But I think Hail, Caesar! is just as great as both of those films, providing enough meat for Coens enthusiasts while also giving early cinema fans what they need (and deserve).

If you’ve been following the work of the Coen brothers, you probably won’t be too shocked to find out what’s going on behind the scenes of the seemingly typical kidnapping/ransom story that we’re introduced to. Just like in screwball comedies like The Big Lebowski, something far more political is going on, causing the film to elevate into more meaningful territory as opposed to just being some run-of-the-mill slapstick comedy. Unlike in The Big Lebowski, the political stuff here is well deserved and fully realized. None of it has the give-me-a-break kind of nonsense that is held in their 1998 classic. Hail, Caesar! is all about comedy, but the societal ideas and representations of certain class warfare (trying not to spoil here!) comes off as fresh, smart, and fun.

But let me say no more. Go out and see it for yourself. This is one of Joel and Ethan’s absolute best films.

One comment

  1. I wanted to love this, and while I think it is fun, I also think it is kind of lacking cohesion. My favorite movie about the Hollywood biz (not taking place in the 1950’s, though), is The Player, starring Tim Robbins.

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