The new Coen Brothers film takes on ‘50s Hollywood with their trademark panache
The Coen Brothers had partially left the field of comedy to experiment with a western and a folk music drama, from which they have returned unhurt—Hail, Caesar! is classic Coens material, complete with a kidnapping, a ransom and deliciously foolish characters. It’s not their best, but who cares? Such cinematic delights are much too rare to turn down. This is original, unrelenting fun, and if you’re familiar with the Coens’ style and ‘50s Hollywood films, it will be right up your alley.
Hail, Caesar! is set in the Golden Age of Hollywood, right in the studios and backlots and offices where Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a so-called “fixer,” works on getting stars out of trouble and production running smoothly. He may be the most important man in Hollywood, and he’s certainly treated as such, but he goes to confession every day, full of existential doubting. Still, if you’re a film director and your lead actress gets pregnant, but she’s unmarried and can’t say for sure who the father is, Mannix is your man. If the star of your biggest production gets kidnapped, well that’s going to be a bit more complicated, but Mannix may just get to the bottom of it.
That star is Baird Whitlock, played by George Clooney in another looney performance in a Coens film. Clooney has shared in interviews that he’s concerned about the directing duo saying they write these characters specifically with him in mind. He’s right to be concerned, because he fits Whitlock like a glove, making some of the funniest facial expressions you’ll see this year. Is there such a thing as facial comedy? If so, there’s lots of it here—countless characters come and go with few or no lines, but their faces speak with the virtuosity of silent-era actors.
Making a film about Hollywood usually comes with mocking and admiration in equal measure, which is certainly the case here. Scenes of westerns, Biblical epics, musicals and costume dramas are reconstructed with not only a feeling for parody, but a stylistic and technical precision that spells out the directors’ attachment to the era. As you’d expect, there’s also talk of the Cold War, and a subplot that is so uproariously silly, it might finally put to rest any suspicion of a leftist takeover of Hollywood.
Hail, Caesar! is the kind of film where you want to discuss every scene and plot detail, but any trailer—trailers for Coen Brothers films are often masterpieces in themselves—will give you a full feel of what you’re getting without divulging much, and it really is better not to divulge anything about the scene-stealing parts of Alden Ehrenreich and Channing Tatum. The two are total newcomers to the Coens universe, but they get the tone and the looks exactly right. The line “Would that it were so simple” may not mean anything to you now, but once you’ve heard it in the proper context, it proves rather unforgettable. A leitmotiv of sorts that runs through all of the Coen Brothers’ work, it suggests that while life is often strange and absurd, it’s also entirely possible to have a little fun with it.
Release date: Feb. 5, 2016
Directed by: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson