1 hour, 46 minutes
I’m a sucker for a Coen Brothers movie. “Raising Arizona” is one of my all-time favorite movies and “Oh Brother, Where Art Though,” is a classic film comedy. And despite its somewhat lowbrow reputation, “The Big Lebowski” is consistently one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. The writing/directing/producing duo also make pretty amazing dramas, like “Fargo” and “No Country for Old Men,” but for me comedy is what they do best.
There’ve been very few Coen Brothers films that I don’t regard as near perfect, which all goes to say I was in the bag for their latest “Hail Caesar!” before it ever came out. And why not? What the brothers have produced is a brilliantly satirical love-letter to old Hollywood which manages to both skewer the studio system and embrace it at the same time. I really enjoyed this film.
Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, a producer for Capitol Pictures, one of the biggest studios in Hollywood. Eddie has an interesting job. He’s one of the studio heads, but not the kind of guy who sits in an office and barks into a phone. No sir. Eddie is on the move, running down missing stars and fixing unexpected problems in major films, such as recasting a parlor comedy with a cowboy star or finding an elegant solution for a recently knocked-up “swim picture” star, ala Esther Williams.
Eddie is constantly on the job and is in a state of constant guilt for neglecting his long-suffering wife and children. The film takes place over one particularly crazy 24-hour period, where Eddie must solve the kidnapping of Baird Whitlock, the studio’s biggest star and the lead in this year’s biggest film, “Hail Caesar: A Story of the Christ.” Along the way he’ll run across a cavalcade of characters — everyone from Tilda Swinton as twin gossip columnists, to Channing Tatum as a Gene Kelly-esque hoofer, to Scarlett Johansson as the aforementioned knocked up bathing beauty.
Conscripted to the cause is good-guy Hobie Doyle, trick rider and roper and star of such western hits as “Lazy ‘Ol Moon.” Hobie is a studio employee and game for whatever comes his way, whether it be wearing a tux in a drawing room for famed director Laurence Laurentz, hilariously portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, or sniffing out the missing Whitlock. I’ll leave the who and why of the kidnapping for you to see in the theater, but suffice it to say that it turns last week’s movie “Trumbo” on it’s head.
Dialogue is certainly one of the Coens’ strong suits, and “Caesar” is no exception. The script flows beautifully and the words spoken have a particular rhythm that makes the film indubitably a Coen project. Group conversations are often hilarious, and I particularly liked a running argument between an evangelical Christian, an orthodox Christian, a Catholic, and a Jew over a.) the nature of the Christ and man’s place in the universe, and b.) whether the studio’s script for “Caesar” was any good.
Having good dialogue helps attract great actors and, aside from those already mentioned, we have fun performances from character actors Jonah Hill, Wayne Knight, Clancy Brown, Francis McDormand, not to mention stellar portrayals from George Clooney, as Baird Whitlock, and a show-stealer from Alden Ehrenreich, as Hobie. The only thing I’d ever seen him in was “Beatiful Creatures,” a movie I remember as better than it should have been, though not necessarily good. He is perfect in this role — all charm and sweet naivite.
In addition to the characters and script, the Coen Brothers always manage to create something beautiful to look at. The production design is top notch, and the cinematography is second to none. While there are plenty of scenes depicting the filming of old movies, the entire actual film of “Hail Caesar” looked like it was transported directly from the films of the 40s and 50s. Frequent Coen collaborator Roger Deakins has been nominated 13 times for an academy award without a win, and is considered one of the best cinematographers of all time.
Many of the Coen films are what I consider perfect films. That doesn’t mean that they are necessarily the greatest films ever made, but rather that there is not one thing that should be changed, not one joke that doesn’t land, not one unfortunate scene to mar an otherwise unblemished product. “Raising Arizona” is like that for me, as is “Fargo,” “Oh Brother,” and “Lebowski.”
I don’t know that I would put “Hail Caesar” in that category. Though it is one of their gentlest films, with a vaguely homoerotic dance number the only potential offense that I can think of, I wouldn’t say that every minute sparkles. The first few scenes are a little haphazard and the plot is slightly convoluted, but then there are moments in this film that work as well as anything the Coens have ever done.
The aforementioned dance number is one example of that. All in all, I’d put this in the upper middle of the brothers’ body of work, which translates to, “I loved it!”
“Hail Caesar” is rated PG-13 for innuendo, mild language, and adult themes.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.