The Coen Brothers’ goofy side has returned, and I’m not quite sure that the population is very appreciative of it. Outside of Hail, Caesar being the first good movie of 2016, there’s a ton of inside references to other movies and studio politics that may not be that eventful for those of us who only view film as escapist fare. For people like myself who watch 150 movies a year, Hail Caesar’s references to Old Hollywood are both witty and aesthetically interesting, but for those aren’t as interested, this film may feel like a waste.
It’s this divisiveness that sometimes hurts the Coen Brothers’ more experimental projects like this one. While a film like No Country for Old Men is universally accessible for its thrilling violence and plot structure, this film or A Serious Man are definitely more of an acquired taste. That being said, because of my love for films like this, I really liked Hail, Caesar a lot.
Our main protagonist Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a ‘fixer,’ a supervisor at Capitol Pictures in Hollywood that oversees production of the films and also works to keep the actors’ private lives out of the media. He’s partly an agent and partly a manager. His experience is tested when the studio’s biggest star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is drugged and kidnapped by the Hollywood Ten, using Whitlock’s stupidity to trick him into learning about Communism. He’s so dense that he makes the kidnapping seem normal, and still dressed in his Roman Empire outfit from the film he’s working on; he sits in a circle with the Ten and discusses the merits of Communist thinking.
Mannix must use all resources to help him find Whitlock, who’s marketability has turned his ‘Roman Empire meets Christ’ film called ‘Hail, Caesar’ one of the most marketable pictures of the year. While going under the radar to find his idiot actor, he walks in and out of productions of other films such as Scarlett Johansson as a mermaid, Channing Tatum as a desperate sailor, and Alden Ehrenreich as a Western actor who has to report to a costume drama directed by the ruthless Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), and also deflects media attention from the Hedda Hopper-like journalist twins, both played by Tilda Swinton. Jonah Hill and Frances McDormand also have cameos.
With cinematography by the great Roger Deakins, there’s a mixture of old-time Hollywood sets mixed among small elements of pure silliness, where certain people or places clearly are exaggerated to make the tone of the film as relentlessly goofy as possible. A scene with a rowboat and a submarine comes to mind, and once you see the film, you’ll agree. I love the aesthetic that this film has, and the Coens have done a great job in making the sets truly reminiscent of what old films were like, but at the same time, direct a very modern film. Wes Anderson may have inspired the comedic style of this one.
In addition to the great supporting performances, it’s really Clooney that steals the show, and it’s refreshing to see him back in a Coen movie where he can embrace his comedic side. His character is a bit of a bumbling idiot, and after an altercation with Eddie, adopts one of the funniest facial expressions I’ve ever seen. This film isn’t for everyone, but for film lovers, it’s a great time.