The Coen Brothers are back with another all-star, Roger Deakins shot, irreverent side-splitter of a film titled: Hail, Caesar! Now the Coens are revered as masterful filmmakers who imbue all of their projects with a hive mind jolt of creative passion, but they’ve really outdone themselves this time. Hail, Caesar! is an ode to the golden days of classic Hollywood and features some of the best world building and inside jokes about the industry imaginable. Some might say the Coens have jumped the shark with this film, and sacrifice storytelling for random pokes at the brilliance and absurdity of the old studio system; and those critics wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but in response one should look to another classic Coen brothers tale of meandering irreverence, and quote The Big Lebowski‘s immortal The Dude who said:
That’s just like, your opinion man.
Set in 1950’s tinseltown, Josh Brolin stars as Eddie Mannix, the head of production and backdoor “fixer” of Capitol Pictures. He’s tasked with keeping the busy studio’s filming schedule on track and it’s myriad of troubled movie stars inline. When the star of Capitol’s new big budget historical epic Hail, Caesar! goes missing, Mannix has to move heaven and Earth to find their man and get production moving again, while simultaneously re-casting the lead in the studio’s new highbrow prestige picture, discreetly resolve one of their leading lady’s very…unladylike paternity issues, set up meetings, take calls all day and somehow manage to return home to his family and occasionally, sleep. Mannix is a busy man, but in this wacky studio system gone haywire world the Coen Brothers have expertly crafted, he’s definitely the best man for the job.
First things first, Hail, Caesar!‘s plot is pretty much irrelevant. The film, which features multiple films within films, is really just an excuse for the Coens to play in the exuberant sandbox of Golden Age Hollywood. The pre-internet, pre-VCR, pre-television, era when a few Hollywood studios molded American culture to their liking via genre flicks screened in movie palaces across the country. Mannix and the odd assortment of Hollywood archetypes he encounters exist solely to take us from one dazzling homage/set piece to another. In lesser hands, a rudderless trip like this might prove tiresome or annoying, but the Coens gleeful and meticulous attention to detail proves contagious. Their irreverent joy at recreating a tap dancing musical or a schloky western rubs off on the audience. The absurdity of seeing George Clooney sport his “iconic” short cropped Caesar haircut, playing an actual Roman general, or Tilda Swinton’s overzealous/old timey pronunciation of Mannix’s first name [“EDieeh!”] takes precedent over narrative or character development. On paper Hail, Caesar! is about a mysterious kidnapping plot but in practice, it’s just an excuse for Channing Tatum to deliver some awesome dance moves and ace physical comedy. Newcomer Alden Ehrenreich’s fish out of water cowboy is easily the funniest, scene-stealer of the entire film. His best moments have little to do with propelling the plot forward, but every butchered dialect and lasso twirl he commits onscreen is simply marvelous. Hail, Caesar!‘s gorgeous cinematography, beautiful costumes and set designs, brilliant dialogue and purposely ham-fisted performances transport the viewer into the heart of the Coens zany love letter to old Hollywood, story be damned.