Editor’s Notes: Hail, Caesar! opens in wide theatrical release tomorrow, February 5th.
With Hail, Caesar!, the Coen Brothers’ shared ability to arrange an extravagant basket of cinematic fruits, and unapologetically present that gift to their audience, proves to be undying. Here in particular those fruits are ripe as ever, making for one of the directing duo’s most chaotic films, and in turn one of their most interesting. Within, a western, a musical, comedy, drama, noir, and political satire all lay centimeters apart, but not quite condensed together, because Hail, Caesar! is not so easily definable, no. Would that it were so simple. Just as the film bounces between each grand idea on display, it visits each genre with evenly distributed passion and creativity, conveying something either hilarious or intellectually stimulating wherever it goes. In this, it forgoes a standard narrative structure and disregards tonal balance, but we never once miss either. Both a love letter to old Hollywood and an indictment of old Hollywood, it’s got far more to worry about.
Just as the film bounces between each grand idea on display, it visits each genre with evenly distributed passion and creativity, conveying something either hilarious or intellectually stimulating wherever it goes.
Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, studio fixer at the fictional 1950’s movie machine Capitol Pictures. In short, he’s the man who gets things done, taking meetings and calls, speaking to stars, warding off the press, giving threats, you name it. He feels guilty partaking in the cliches of his time, like smoking or selling out, and is thusly having a crisis of faith. The film itself opens right at the dawn of what seems like a normal day for Eddie, when quite mysteriously, Hollywood superstar Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped. As Eddie takes necessary actions in response to this sudden event, he must go about his day as well, hopefully finding answers along the way. In the meantime, we meet a colorful cast of characters who all have something to offer, no matter exactly how substantial.
The wonderful Roger Deakins gives us images that masterfully evoke a time long gone, smartly restraining himself for the sake of accuracy.
Hail, Caesar! is, beyond that, simply brilliant. Quite often, it makes light of the trivialities found in many facets of Hollywood politics and relations (reputation, talent, embodying or rejecting onscreen personas), even inserting various personalities (from Hollywood types to those on the outside) into unfamiliar situations consisting of more drastic, real politics. Yet, simultaneously, it puts one man’s faith (that of Eddie’s) in the hands of the 50’s movie industry, an industry which may have been flawed, but produced truly special stuff. Eddie’s struggle is whether the good in this industry is truly worth the bad, the monotonous, the inconsequential, the unnecessary. It’s a very subtly beautiful arc (complete with metaphorical imagery) that just so happens to exist in a comedy of wealth and extravagance, and it fits like a glove. It’s shocking that it does, too, because much of the film is gleefully absurd chaos. Not that it’s mindless, because it absolutely isn’t, but it’s filled to the brim with sheer life. Really, a steady hand is required to make such energy smoothly commingle with intimate smarts, and the Coens might have the steadiest hands in the business.
The wonderful Roger Deakins gives us images that masterfully evoke a time long gone, smartly restraining himself for the sake of accuracy. Restraint is found nowhere else, however, from George Clooney’s performance to the Coens’ pitch-perfect script, and rightfully so. The character of Baird Whitlock is an oblivious idiot, and Clooney plays him a little too well, always seeming in a stupor, never overstepping into the realm of a caricature. But other characters are intended be caricatures, particularly Hobie Doyle, an upstart actor (played marvelously by Alden Ehrenreich) who’s known for being a stoic cowboy and nothing more. The script gives his character wonderful moments, one of which involving the humorous lasso-like spinning of a spaghetti noodle (in reference to the term “spaghetti western”). There’s a lasting quality to these roles and the talent that embodies them, so it’s hard to believe that another less humorous character could have more of an impact, but somehow, Josh Brolin stands out even more. As Eddie Mannix, he’s vulnerable, sharp, charming, and endearing, with the most optimistic mindset of the bunch.
Oh, Hail, Caesar! is an electric tapestry of brilliance that wears confidence from head to toe. It’s a revelatory epic, an unforgettable onslaught of insights that never fails to impress. Hey, Coen Brothers, you’ve done it again.
Hail, Caesar! is an electric tapestry of brilliance that wears confidence from head to toe. It's a revelatory epic, an unforgettable onslaught of insights that never fails to impress. Hey, Coen Brothers, you've done it again.