If a duo as diverse as the Coen Brothers
could have a calling card, Hail, Caesar!
would be it.
The film, a 1950s Hollywood period piece, gathers all the talents of the Oscar winning pair into one glorious, glittering epic: a satire of the Hollywood system and a testament to its creativity – then and now.
The film follows a day in the life of studio director Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) as he attempts to track down a missing actor, kidnapped from the set of his new biblical epic.
As Mannix charges around the studios attempting
to temper disaster, we are plunged into a hilarious miscellany of film sets. Channing
Tatum takes a brilliantly foppish turn as a sailor in a hackneyed musical; Scarlett
Johannsson is Mer-queen by day and foul-mouthed, smoking, pregnant diva by night. Coen
muse George Clooney reprises his role as a well-meaning thickhead, invited to
communism by a group of disgruntled screenwriters.
There are moments of pure satirical glee. One scene sees things go off-topic as Brolin calls a focus group of different religious leaders to discuss the authenticity of Christ’s cinematic depiction of Christ. Unsurprisingly the room descends into a heated theological, and existential debate; think Woody Allen’s Love and Death – with more gusto.
But Hail, Caesar! is also serious when it needs to be. The Coens exhibit a distinctive knack for catching us off-guard in a laugh, bringing us back to reality, with – sometimes quite literally – a slap in the face. Comic moments are uncomfortably juxtaposed with moments of violent “broad-beating”. Misogyny towards wives and girlfriends, and the studio's ownership of their actresses' private lives are never sidestepped.
This is not to say there aren’t problems. As always, the slapstick moments might lose laughs; jokes try a little hard. Ralph Fiennes’ ‘Laurence Laurence’ painstakingly explaining to his hillbilly Western actor for the umpteenth time how to pronounce ‘It’s not that simple’ might trigger some eye-rolls, as might Frances McDormand getting her scarf trapped as she laces the projector. But what’s great about Hail, Caesar! is that it is a composite of what the Coens do best; and a tribute to their inspiration. Old Hollywood is treated like a wise but politically incorrect grandparent, the Coens their affectionate grandchildren – aware of its failings, they love it all the same.
We as an audience gaze up transfixed, like audiences past. The whole thing shines with the dull shimmer of costume jewellery, and we are invited to affectionately, nostalgically bask in the fiction of it all.
Hail, Caesar! may not be the Coen’s best film to date, but it’s certainly their ‘most’ film. A tributary feast, this is the film the Coens were born to make.
|Hail, Caesar! film review: Berlin 2016
|Various Locations | MAP
|Leicester Square (underground)
04 Mar 16 – 04 May 16, Times vary according to cinema
|£ determined by cinema
|Click here to go the film's IMDB page