Cinematic Releases: Hail, Caesar!

Andrew reviews the latest Coen Brothers offering, Hail, Caesar!

Yes. Worship my breasts. 
It goes without saying Joel and Ethan Coen are masters in the film business.  Time and time again, the dynamic duo have churned out impeccably crafted masterworks which have proven to be hugely profitable at the box office while maintaining their distinctive Southern Gothic auteurist stamp and winning over the critics.  Between Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Big Lebowski, Miller's Crossing and Barton Fink, this is quite a formidable team of uniquely comical writer-directors who have left their mark and can pretty much do anything they so desire with exacting standards.  If they aim to shoot for greatness as with No Country For Old Men, they most certainly will and be recognized for doing such.  Every now and again though, the genre-busting masters need a break from the serious minded and heavier tales for a good old fashioned lark.  Such is the case with things like Intolerable Cruelty, Burn After Reading and now Hail, Caesar!, films that make no bones about not being much more than an amusing aside.  It's a lot of glorious fun and a far lighter take on the Golden Age of Hollywood than Barton Fink but average for the Coen's caliber.

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Considered to be part three of their Numbskull Trilogy which began with O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Intolerable Cruelty, the story is largely a goof on that brief period in the 1950s when Biblical swords and sandals epics fought tooth and nail to lure potential moviegoers away from their television sets and back into theaters with many nods to the Gene Kelly musical, the Tyrone Power drama and a dash of Cecil B. Demille.  It also touches on the Red Scare so eloquently depicted in the recently released Trumbo when screenwriters worked incognito to produce scripts for Hollywood under psedonyms.  Mostly it's about Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a "fixer" in Hollywood who is trying to keep news of the kidnapping of Kirk Douglas type Baird Whitlock (George Clooney hamming it up) from spilling over into the press.  Along the way are the usual cast of Coen characters, the snarky Southern Gothic dialogue, and surreal asides which demonstrate the Coens' loving tribute to a bygone era of filmmaking while elevating the cliches to new heights completely of their own devising.  Standout scenes include a tiff between frustrated director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) tangling with his hicktastic leading man Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) and a Gene Kelly musical number spearheaded by Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) with a lot of choreographed tap dancing.  

Did you just bring up Jonah Hex again?
It's all very amusing with some more than overt nods to Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest and George Stevens' The Greatest Story Ever Told, but unlike O Brother, Where Art Thou? which closed on an air of grand uncertainty, Hail, Caesar! ties things up too nicely with a bow and is cut a little too short.  Considering we know how well the Coens can really do, escapist fun like this is welcome but undeniably a tad disappointing when compared to the heights they've reached.  Performances, abundant cameos and technical mastery aside, Hail, Caesar! is a good old fashioned time at the movies and a far more joyful send up of the Golden Age of Hollywood than something like, say, John Schlesinger's dark and disturbing The Day of the Locust.  Die hard Coen fans will get exactly what they expect from them and it's easier on the eyes than No Country for Old Men which seemed to scuba dive into dark ultraviolence.  Those familiar with the Golden Age of Hollywood will get more out of it than modern filmgoers although the trademark brand of Coen comedy will always be funny even in weaker efforts like this one.  Not bad but you don't have to be a Coen fan to know they can do better.


- Andrew Kotwicki