Hail, Caesar! | Ethan & Joel Coen | February 5th, 2016
In Hollywood, no one is safe–that is, safe from being made a farce. Hail, Caesar!, the latest film from the ever-illustrious Coen Brothers, finds a 1950s studio “fixer” (Josh Brolin) looking for his missing leading man (George Clooney). As the mysterious events unfold, we meet an eclectic cast of characters from all walks of the movie biz, played by one of the best ensemble casts I’ve ever seen. While it may not pack the same cathartic punch as other Coen chronicles have, that may not be such a bad thing.
The Coens have a long, deep history in the modern motion picture zeitgeist. They’re known for using certain themes, having recurring actors, and for having a certain style. There is an expectation that comes with the billing, one of high substance and esteem. Whenever a great artist chooses to do something different, critics will try to manufacture a reason “why”. They’ll compare it to previous films, noting its similarities, but especially what it “lacks”. I think some people actually forget to enjoy the film. That’s what I did–I just genuinely enjoyed Hail, Caesar!.
But here’s the rub, where I do all the things I just said above. It’s not the next Big Lebowski. The two films are just fundamentally different forms of comedy, and Hail, Caesar! is much more “intentionally” funny. I wouldn’t place it anywhere near low-brow humor (let’s be real, there’s a lot of crap that gets shoveled into theaters every year), it’s just … more intentional. Maybe this wouldn’t work in the hands of different directors, but the tried and true quick wit of the Coens’ writing is at full play, and there is rarely a silent moment. Much of the humor is caricaturing Hollywood, but everyone gets their fair share of lampoons. Religion, sexuality, journalism, intellectualism, conservatism, economics (especially economics) – it’s all on the table. And, while most of it is very smart, one of the funniest scenes involves Ralph Fiennes’ and Alden Ehrenreich’s characters simply repeating a word over and over again. It’s those borderline absurd moments that had the audience in stitches.
The film itself heavily features homages to the ghosts of Hollywood’s past. A lot of the scenes are broken off into self-contained sequences featuring popular film styles of the classics. Film noir, musicals, melodrama – it’s all in there. Many of the billed actors only have short scenes in which they are featured, which might dismay some, but they still manage to pull out laughs in such a short order. Jonah Hill only has a handful of lines. Channing Tatum is a gay, tap dancing sailor. I don’t want to give away too much, but you get the idea. My one criticism would be that, despite the best efforts to keep these vignettes relevant, it did make the overarching plot feel a little disjointed at times. I don’t think there’s really any way it could have been done better, it’s just the way it is. Definitely not bad enough to turn me off on it, though. Like I said before, just don’t expect to come out of this one with some sort of revelation or new-found purpose.
While it may not be the Coen Brothers’ best work, what they have done with Hail, Caesar! is create a playful, earnest love letter to Hollywood’s golden age. The film itself hints at the frivolity of the movie business, but proceeds to prove that those actors, staff, and studio back lots fueled the dreams of a generation. And they still do to this day.
Hail, Caesar! releases in theaters tomorrow, February 5th, 2016 from Universal Pictures.