Joel and Ethan Coen have established themselves as one of the best filmmaking duos in Hollywood. Somehow their success is spread across a massive variety in film genre and tone. From the absurdist dark comedy of The Big Lebowski, to the monstrous killer in No Country For Old Men, the Coen brothers have shown us time and time again that their sensibilities are not limited by cinematic categories. This breadth comes with some caution by their fans. With each film occupying new territory, there is always an initial concern about whether or not they can pull it off. Hail, Caesar! Is one of the most ambitious films the brothers have attempted recently and they certainly pull it off, swimmingly.
Taking place during the day in the life of a 1950s Hollywood studio executive, Hail, Caesar! combines many elements of films from that era. It starts with our studio head Eddie (Josh Brolin) in confession. He is a pious man who needs much guidance. After all, in the very next scene he is breaking up a pin-up photo shoot because the young starlet posing for the pictures is under contract with Capital Pictures, and they have not authorized this photo session. From there Eddie spends the rest of the day putting out figurative fires in both the films in production and the personal lives of his stars. The biggest and more central issue in Hail, Caesar! is the kidnapping of his biggest star. Baird (George Clooney) was in the middle of shooting his biblical epic, “Hail, Caesar!,” when he is poisoned and subsequently abducted. As he comes to in a remote beach house we are clued in to the fact that his abductors are not your typical randsomers. There is a lot more going on at that beach house than simple greed.
To that end, there is a lot going on throughout Hail, Caesar!. As Eddie pops in and out of the soundstages, he encounters stars, directors, and all of their egos. From DeeAnna (Scarlett Johansson) pulling off the perfect water dancing routine before Eddie helps her decide how to deal with her problematic pregnancy, to the nautical musical about “dames,” there is no lack of drama and excitement for Eddie. Throwing Baird’s disappearance into the already messy world of the studio lot could be the straw that breaks Eddie’s back, but he is good at his job and seems to thrive in the chaos.
With the various films within the film, there are plenty of opportunities for the Coens to have fun reveling in the beauty and opulence of old Hollywood. The musical numbers are filled with choreography and production value that show no expense was spared for these films. The western portion of the film has plenty of trick riding and cowboy rope tricks.
Rather than a straight homage to this era of filmmaking, the Coens satirize the hell out of these films. In typical Coen fashion this film is absolutely hilarious and toes the line between being honestly clever and too cute for its own good. The film’s humor is over the top and some of the performances are artificially amplified to convey the satire, but these elements work in harmony together. Stacking the deck with some of the best actors working today allows the characters to have nuance and depth that could not have been handled by a lesser ensemble cast.
For audiences who know the Coen brother’s offbeat sense of humor and love to get lost in meandering and complicated plots, Hail, Caesar! will be an absolute delight.
Directors: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Film Length: 106 minutes
Release Date: February 5, 2016
Distributor: Universal Pictures