Hail, Caesar! – Film Review


Hail, Caesar! – Film Review by Pat V.

Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Stars: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum

If you’re a lover of biblical epics, of film noir, of Esther Williams’ aquatic extravaganzas, of tap dancing stars in unlikely musicals, of small budget “on the range” cowboy B movies, or of the magic that we imagine was Hollywood of the 1950s, this is the film for you. Add some Catholic angst, a few Jewish jokes, a communist cell and a Russian submarine and you have some of the elements that make up Hail, Caesar!, the Coen Brothers’ latest film. There is certainly a degree of self-indulgence and over-egging the pudding in the production and whether it is an hommage to or a pastiche of those old films we loved (or hated)  it finally doesn’t really matter, this is a truly funny film.

The story covers a couple of days in the life of Eddie Mannix (a superb Josh Brolin), a “fixer” for Capital Studios whose job it is to try and calm hysterical directors, get starlets out of self-made jams, charm gossip columnists into keeping embarrassing stories out of the news while all the time managing his own complicated personal life and struggling with his Catholic guilt. The title refers to the “big” movie the studio is shooting at the time “A Tale of the Christ” (with scenes stolen shamelessly from Ben Hur and The Robe) which runs into problems when its star, Baird Whitlock, (George Clooney) is kidnapped.

Eddie had already been uneasy about the content of Hail, Caesar! and one of the best scenes early in the film is when he calls in a Catholic priest, a Greek Orthodox pastor, a Protestant minister, and a Jewish rabbi for their advice on whether the script risks offending “reasonable” viewers of their respective faiths. After a discussion worthy of the Marx Brothers the only suggestion offered is that they make some changes to the chariot race. One problem solved, but Eddie’s day is just beginning. Within a short space of time he has to sort out the dilemmas of a pregnant starlet (Scarlett Johansson in a mermaid suit doing a Busby Berkeley style synchronised swim), placate a hysterical director (Ralph Fiennes) who has been assigned a B-movie cowboy to star in his sophisticated parlour drama (incredible performance by Alden Ehrenreich) and deal with getting together the ransom for his kidnapped star.

Hail, Caesar! juggles a number of plots and sub-plots. Characters drift in and out as their paths cross with Eddie’s. We meet Tilda Swinton playing gossip columnist, Thora Thacker, and a few moments later we meet her again, this time playing Thessaly Thacker, Thora’s twin sister, columnist for a rival gossip magazine. Frances McDormand makes a brief cameo appearance as a chain smoking film editor. Channing Tatum sings and dances in a scene inspired by Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh. All this is complemented by Michael Gambon’s film noir style narration which adds greatly to the period atmosphere.

There are hints at more serious themes in the film but they tend to get drowned by the zany action-packed sequences. The communist action group, looking here more like a sedate knitting circle, reminds us of what happened under Senator McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. There are suggestions that a homosexual encounter of one of the stars would lead to the end of his career, until Eddie, the fixer, sorts the problem. And throughout the film we have reference to religious imagery from the bleeding crucifix with which the film opens to the last shots of George Clooney in his role of a Roman consul standing at the foot of the cross.

There is probably too much going on in Hail, Caesar! but it is all great fun. This film will delight not only the film buff, recognising all the references to great movies of the past, but anyone with a sense of humour. It can be enjoyed even more in hindsight and is a film you’d be happy to watch a second or even third time.


Categories: Header, Movie Review, Movies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.