Hail, Coens! Joel and Ethan return to our screens for their first movie since Inside Llewyn Davis, Hail, Caesar! a comedy about the day in the life of a Hollywood studio executive. Returning to their roots Hail, Caesar! is more in the vain of their earlier, oddball, comedic works like The Big Lebowski and Barton Fink, with the latter working well in a double bill with the feature.
Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, head of physical production at Capitol Pictures. He is a fixer, a man who spends his day sorting out the problems of spoiled Hollywood stars and primadonna pretentious film directors. The film starts with Mannix sat in a confessional booth, telling a priest how he is racked with guilt because he has smoked two cigarettes behind his wife’s back. See Mannix is a man wrestling with his conscious, he loves the job he does as much as he hates it at times, and the movie industry is undergoing a period that threatens its very existence. The world is moving forward and Hollywood is clinging on to hope, hitting back with synchronised swimming, over the top dance numbers and biblical epics. Mannix is being an offered a lucrative position with an aviation company and has one day to decide where his future lies.
To describe the film’s plot as scattershot would be to it a misjustice. The movie bounces between a kidnapped Hollywood star, the threat of communism, the paternity rights of a Hollywood child and several other barmy loose ends. But like most Coen’s penned scripts they manage to find a deeper meaning in what is at first, a seemingly irrelevant plot. The movie deals with several big issues, without ever addressing them in full- we see faith dealt with, celebrity culture taken head on, consumerism flirted with, but above all else this a love letter to the Golden age of Hollywood, where women danced with Banana’s on their heads and actors toe tapped on tables.
After the heavy, nihilistic tone of their recent work it is nice to see the Coen’s take a much needed breather and return to what them famous. Hail, Caesar! is, above all else, consistently fun. The duo’s trademark quirks all back and some scenes are a pure delight. An early encounter between Maddix and several religious figures is a knock out, whilst the brilliant scene from the trailer, where we see Ehrenreich being shown out to pronounce a line by Fiennes gets funnier each time I watch it. A dance scene involving Channing Tatum and a swimming sequence featuring Scarlett Johansson are superbly shot by Roger Deakin, adding a beautiful colour palette to the whole film, as he so often does.
Not since Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel has a film had such an embarassment of riches in the casting department. George Clooney’s Brad Whitlock feels like a throwback to his earlier work with the brothers in O Brother, Where Are Thou? Tilda Swinton excels as dueling sister columnists, desperate to get the latest scoop from Maddix. Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson and Jonah Hill all have fun in their minor roles, whilst Ralph Fiennes continues to show his more flamboyant side as director Lawrence Larentz. But the real star of the show here is Alden Ehrenreich. The up and coming star plays Hollywood matinee idol Hobie Doyle, who is attempting to make the transition from the Western genre into more serious work, at the request of the studios. And, well, my dear boy, what a delight he is.
Hail, Caesar! is a throwback to both the glory days of Hollywood and the formative years of the Coen brothers. Endlessly funny, full of wit and charm and not without its more serious issues, if you want to go there Hail, Caesar is another delightful success from the brothers. If only all comedies were this good, would that it were so simple?
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