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Hail, Caesar! – Movie Review

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Hail, Caesar! – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

Ethan and Joel Coen have made a career out of switching between goofy comedies and dreary dramas. Hail, Caesar! is definitely the former, with a lot in common with some of their other lightweight throwbacks. A lot of the film is the Coen Brothers gleefully returning to the Golden Age of Hollywood, when the studio system ruled the day and they’re at their most fun when mounting the various comedic set-pieces that takes us from sound stage to sound stage. When putting all of them together into a narrative, the flaws in the plot start to show and this is a movie that could have benefited a little from a longer runtime. Yet for those who frequently switch on Turner Classic Movies, Hail, Caesar! becomes an enjoyable trip back to that era of filmmaking.

The Coens clearly have a fascination for the classic Hollywood era, when Roman epics, cowboy movies and even aquatic musicals filled the screen. Focusing on the studio’s resident fixer is a nice touch as it gives focus to somebody just pivotal in making sure all of the productions ran smoothly and the actors were kept in check. Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix with a confidence and patience and he provides our eyes and ears into this world. The funniest portions of Hail, Caesar! are when we witness the inner workings of that decade’s movies. Ralph Fiennes’s posh director dealing with a western star infiltrating his classy period piece leads to a delightfully funny sketch. Channing Tatum also gets the chance to show his tap-dancing skills in a humourous riff on the musical pictures of the 1950s.

The Coens made this film with an expectation that the audience has some insider knowledge about how studios operated back then. However, at this point in their career, it’s fairly clear at this point they don’t care about alienating a certain portion of their viewership. An extended scene of a movie-within-the-movie poking fun at the by-golly westerns of the time will play funnier to those who have seen some of the corny cowboy films that tended to litter the screens in higher dosages than superhero films today. Not one character strikes a false note as the Coens manage to make even the smallest of roles very entertaining.

Part of why Hail, Caesar! doesn’t quite reach the usual Coen Brothers height is the looseness of the narrative. A lot of it does feel like a series of sketches and the script tries its hardest to cobble them together. One plotline, involving a band of communist screenwriters, could have done more to poke fun at the Red Scare erupting during the time period. There are also characters that exist purely to support a scene. With the exception of Eddie Mannix, George Clooney’s pampered movie star and Alden Ehrenreich’s newbie up-and-comer, a lot of the characters don’t serve too much of a purpose in the grand scheme of things. However, one starts to wonder if, like every other Coen Brothers effort, the layers will be more obvious on repeat viewings.

Hail, Caesar! falls more in the line with efforts like Raising Arizona and Intolerable Cruelty, charming little comedies that are good for a breezy viewing. One can see the Coens have both an affection and comically cynical point of view of the Hollywood of yesteryear. It does feel like they had a bunch of funny ideas and like a plot-pivotal suitcase, they tied them together with a belt while keeping the pages tightly in place. It says a lot about how consistent they are, that even the lesser works provide plenty of enjoyment, despite the inevitable comparison to superior works. In the case of Hail, Caesar!, one remembers the far more strongly written Hudsucker Proxy and Barton Fink. Honestly, all five films referenced in this paragraph are solid recommendations on their own.


Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE

The Scene