- on Friday, 05 February 2016 16:11
- by Frank Wilkins
The golden age of Hollywood, with its authoritative studio system, juicy scandals, and nosy gossip columnists at every turn, gets a loving homage by Joel and Ethan Coen in Hail, Caesar!, a film that pulls back the curtain on the Hollywood movie-making machine the pair have notoriously disparaged in the past.
Maybe we’re witnessing the turning over of a new leaf from the filmmaking duo who quite brutally skewered the film production process in their 1991 film, Barton Fink. Or, perhaps at this point in an illustrious career that includes nearly a dozen films, the pair are simply having more fun doing what they do.
Whatever the case, Hail, Caesar! seems to come from a kinder, gentler place, and the result is a delightfully approachable Coen Brothers comedy that is as silly as it is sophisticated. And in an industry that seems to thrive on lowest common denominator humor these days, a little smart is a much welcomed treat.
Hail, Caesar! is set in immediate post-war Hollywood, a period when the motion picture industry’s glitzy veneer was beginning to show signs of wear and fatigue. The Red Scare was in full rage, the political and social landscape was changing rapidly, and television represented a real threat to the industry.
Enter Capitol Pictures executive and “fixer” Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), charged with covering up the indiscretions of stars who stray outside the studio’s strict code that determines which movies they will star in, what they can wear, and with whom they are allowed be seen in public.
Mannix’s headaches begin when the making of the studio’s Ben Hur-like tentpole Biblical epic is halted after its star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is drugged, kidnapped, and held for ransom.
In addition, studio ingenue and synchronized swimming star DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) has an out-of-wedlock pregnancy revelation, singing cowboy crooner Hobie Doyle ( Alden Ehrenreich) is failing in his studio-mandated transition to drama pictures, and two nosy gossip rag mavens Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton) – or is it Thessaly and Thora – are threatening to run with a damaging gossip article. Yes, things are getting strange. This is a Coen Brothers film, after all. A homoerotic dance number by Channing Tatum (who is perfectly at home with the role), and a communist conspiracy plot further reflect the fears and worries of the times.
The Coens bounce around from thread to thread but keep Mannix at the forefront as he springs back-and-forth between headaches over a 24-hour period. A private, rather insecure guy in his personal life, Mannix struggles greatly with the decision of whether or not to accept a generous job offer from outside the industry. Ironically, it’s this inner struggle – not the persistent battle of his daily tasks – that keeps him up at night. But when seen in public, and on movie sets, Mannix knows when to be stern. He also knows that Americans want to believe in the movies they watch. And it’s his job to keep the appearance of those movies as righteous and truthful… which is kind of the film’s main conceit. It was company men, like Mannix, who greased the movie industry’s wheels, doing whatever necessary – even skirting the bounds of decency – to protect that wholesome image.
The Coens have had their fair share of misses, for sure. For every The Ladykillers, there is a The Big Lebowski, and a No Country for Old Men. But even the flops go down having explored the themes and ideas behind what makes something intriguing or funny. Their humor is always slightly askew and their themes always presented with a healthy dose of sardonic irony. While Hail, Caesar! will certainly never come up in a discussion of their best, even as a middle-of-the-pack Coen Brothers film, it’s pretty darn entertaining.
With Hail, Caesar!, the Coen Brothers find a challenging and stimulating way to poke a bit of harmless fun at the brutal irony of Hollywood’s hypocrisy, while at the same time making it feel like a loving pat on the back.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some suggestive content and smoking.
Runtime: 106 mins
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Writer: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich
Tagline: Lights. Camera. Abduction....
Memorable Movie Quote: "People don't want facts, they want to believe."
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Official Site: https://www.facebook.com/HailCaesarMovie
Release Date: February 5, 2016
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: June 7, 2016
Synopsis: Hail Caesar! Follows a day in the life of Eddie Mannix, a Hollywood fixer for Capital Pictures in the 1950s, who cleans up and solves problems for big names and stars in the industry. But when studio star Baird Whitlock disappears, Mannix has to deal with more than just the fix.
Available on Blu-ray - June 7, 2016
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; Spanish: DTS 5.1; French: DTS 5.1
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD-50, 1 DVD); UV digital copy; iTunes digital copy; Digital copy; DVD copy
Region Encoding: A
If it walks and quacks like a duck, well, it’s probably a duck and, there’s no way around it. Hail, Caesar! – a movie for moviemakers about moviemakers – is a bit self-indulgent. Some will want the title in their collection and maybe a few other Coen devotees. Universal’s 1080p transfer – with a MPEG-4 AVC encode – is as basic as it gets. Nothing special about it. Colors are strong. Black levels are solid. The skin tones of the cast are a bit concerning as they appear to be too warm but this could be a choice in the production and it is certainly not a distraction. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack is solid, as well.
With four featurettes, Universal does satisfy for the fan wanting to know more about the Coen Brothers. The cast talks about their excitement in working with the brothers in one featurette, and, in another, we get a sample of the cast and the character they play. The third and fourth featurettes look at the production design and all the efforts that went into bringing the past back to life. A DVD copy of the film and a voucher for a UV/iTunes digital copy are included.
- Directing Hollywood (4 min)
- The Stars Align (12 min)
- An Era of Glamour (6 min)
- Magic of a Bygone Era (6 min)