The only thing I love more than movies are movies about movies. The Player, The Big Picture, Tropic Thunder, Swimming with Sharks, Living in Oblivion and Cinema Paradiso are just some of the movies about movies that hold a special place in my heart, and the Coen Brothers are not very different from me when it comes to harbouring a very special love for the pictures and Barton Fink is perhaps the best evidence of that fact.
With Hail, Caesar! they are back to satirizing 50’s Hollywood but this time around it’s not as twisty, dark humorous or as thought-provoking as Barton Fink. Instead, it’s an homage to the golden age of Hollywood and a far lighter and funnier screwball comedy, much more in the spirit of something like O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The film follows the story Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a 1950s studio fixer at Capitol Pictures who has burdens on every set. He has to conduct a clergy focus group about the portrayal of Jesus in the studio’s upcoming biblical epic: “Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ”, save a naive actress from French postcard ignominy, deal with identical twin gossip columnists who hate each other’s guts and make sure the production of various of the studio’s films goes through smoothly. But things only get worse for Mannix when Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the leading man, is mysteriously kidnapped by a group called ‘The Future’ and not only must Mannix make sure he gets his leading man back but also juggle all these problems at the same time.
Hail, Caesar! is the Coen Brothers’s best film in years and one of their best films ever. It is probably my favorite film of theirs since No Country For Old Men. What works best about this film for me is how consistently funny the comedy is, not gut-bustingly funny, just funny and full of heart. And while you can associate the screwball comedy with O Brother Where Art Thou? and going back to 50’s Hollywood reminiscent to Barton Fink, Hail Caesar! is a very unique Coen Brothers joint because I feel it concentrates much more at giving a look into this specific time-period through signature cracked Coen Brothers humor, indelible characters, and stunningly rich Roger Deakins cinematography. The film has a number of subplots but none of them feel convoluted or heavy-handed. Instead they are deftly balanced all within the film’s lean 106 minute runtime. For once, style trumps substance in a Coen Brothers movie but it’s very deliberate and one of the reasons why this film works so well.
The homages to 50’s Hollywood are quite simply delightful, while the casting choices are all pitch perfect.The cast is probably one of the best ones the Coens have ever assembled with Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand all starring. But I guess the three performances that really stand-out are the ones from: Josh Brolin, George Clooney and Alden Ehrenreich. Ehrenreich in particular, who steals the show as the charming Ricky Nelson-esque cowboy star Hobey Doyle.
Altogether, I think Hail Caesar! is a fantastic film. It’s a smart, entertaining and an exceedingly humorous homage to 50’s Hollywood and without doubt one of the Coen Brothers’s best and funniest films ever.