Hail Caesar (2016)
Written and Directed By: Joel and Ethan Coen
Hollywood in the 1950’s was a well-oiled and composed machine that spun out hit after hit. Movies did not have to be of that soulful pensive nature (think The Revenant) or one with guns and plenty of blood (think Hateful Eight); instead they were elaborate tales that showcased grandeur and elegance. Usually the movie screen was filled with the grandness of a fake set with tons of extras and the films seemed so magnificently grand. It was a time when actors were the face of studios and many had to know how to sing and dance and be all around performers. Studios created stars and directors were treated like royalty. In Joel and Ethan Coens’ new film Hail Caesar!, they bring to life the reality of movie making in the fifties and the great lengths studios went to in order to keep up decorum and create the illusion of Hollywood magic.
Written and directed by the Coen brothers, it is obvious that they made this movie because they are lovers of film and in a sense ended up paying homage to it in their own silly way. This movie is so unlike many of their others such as No Country for Old Men, Fargo, etc, yet at the same time it is completely a Coen brothers’ film in the dialogue and the jovial hijinks aspect to it.
The film is about Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) the Hollywood fixer, similar to a modern day Olivia Pope, he works for Capitol studios and is in charge of keeping the actors in line and fixing any issues that could make the studio look bad. He is a Catholic family man who enjoys confessing his sins (even the Priest tells him he comes too often), an occasional cigarette despite his wife’s protests and knows how to give an old-fashioned slap around to any Hollywood actor or actress who goes awry.
When one of the studios most famous and handsome actors go missing, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), he is in charge of finding and bringing him back to the set. Whitlock is in the middle of filming Hail Caesar!, obviously a nod to the epic Ben Hur, and is taken fresh off the set in Roman regalia, sandals, armor, fake sword, and all. I am sure that in looking back at old films, the Coen brothers realized the ridiculousness of some of the over acted expressions that were used back then and they were smartly put into the film. Clooney smiles like a nitwit who barely knows his lines, yet exudes charm that can fill a room.
Whitlock it turns out is captured by a group of screenwriters who are part of the Communist Party. They want $100, 000 dollars in exchange for the actor. They hold him up in a beautiful Malibu home and feed him cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off and indulge him in Communist theories. Being that he is so dim, he falls for everything they say and starts to think they are actually really smart. Yes, that’s how dumb he is.
We see that Mannix has a lot on his plate at all times. He places a Western movies actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), who can sing country tunes and lasso a pony like no other, similar to Gene Autry, in a more serious film Merrily We Dance. Doyle has a pretty face and Mannix knows he would look great up on the poster, but the problem is as director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) realizes is that he can’t act to save his life. His southern drawl gets in the way of his lines and they both interact in one of the funniest scenes in the movie, going back and forth trying to say the line right.
Another side story is that of the beautiful screen starlet DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johanssen) who Mannix has to go visit on the set of her Busby Berkeley-inspired movie filled with synchronized swimmers and a grand orchestra. He has to figure out a way for her to adopt her fatherless child, so that she doesn’t look bad in the press.
One of my favorite scenes was the musical number by Hollywood heartthrob Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum), who performs a tap dance routine straight out of a Gene Kelly movie. Clad as sailors, Gurney and his fellow men, sing a tune and dance that turns a bit homoerotic, but that lends itself to the fact that movies back in the day didn’t realize they were being so friendly and gay.
Clooney was fantastically funny and played the part to perfection. Tatum was rightly cast as the dancer of the group and his scenes literally had me cracking up. The way he looked at the camera, he was definitely playing into a Gloria Swanson type persona. Yes, Mr. Deville, Tatum is ready for his close-up.
My favorite performance was from Ehrenreich, who stole the film with his ability to act so naïve, yet, debonair at the same time. I look forward to seeing him in more films. Brolin carried the film from start to finish and exuded the grit necessary for the part.
Overall the movie had a lot of different stories and actors running through it. I didn’t even mention them all, but together brings about an ensemble cast that leaves us wanting more. I felt some actors were underused and I wanted to see them on screen more, but with so much going on that was virtually impossible. This was not my favorite Coen brothers’ film, as I am a huge fan of Fargo, The Big Lebowski and Inside Llewyn Davis, but it was pleasantly good. I can’t rave about it because I felt it was missing something from the end and honestly I left wanting a little more. The film had a lot of funny moments and great dialogue and it is a must watch if you are fan of the Coen brothers and want to add this to your repertoire.