Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Channing Tatum
In “Hail, Caesar!” Joel and Ethan Coen satirize the studio system of Hollywood’s Golden Age — and for that matter Hollywood itself – while paying loving homage to the kinds of films produced during this period. “Hail, Caesar!” follows a “fixer,” someone minimizes the public fallout of the studio’s issues, for the fictional Capital Pictures as they make their prestige picture, a biblical epic sharing its title with the movie. During the production, the film’s star gets kidnapped, and the Fixer needs to find the missing movie star, and deal with other various issues. That is the fundamental flaw with “Hail, Caesar!” that the many stories in this plot run perpendicular to the plot rather than parallel to the plot. The perpendicular story lines ultimately leave the film to feeling disjointed, which is something that does not often happen in the Coens’ work.
The Coens put together an ensemble that includes some of the finest talents in Hollywood, but because of the disjointed plot, the film never uses this ensemble to its full potential. Many of these actors end up in what is essentially a glorified cameo. Channing Tatum was the biggest casualty of this underuse because his character needed more development to be used in the way in which he was ultimately used.
On one level “Hail, Caesar!” is a satire of the studio system that dominated Hollywood until the late 1960s. There is a lot in this movie about how the studios would behave, how they would solve their issues, and how they would manufacture and protect the image of a star. There was a great scene about the studio dealing with religious leaders: a Rabbi, a Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox Clergymen, to ensure that their biblical epic treats Christ respectfully enough. And another scene that references the House Un-American Activites Committee’s Hollywood Blacklist – I was the only person who was laughing in my theater during that scene. The concept of the Hollywood image-maker and Tilda Swinton’s gossip columnist character and how the studio deals with her can be viewed as a satire of the elements of the studio system that are still present in Hollywood today.
On another level “Hail, Caesar!” is a loving homage to the films that Hollywood produced during its Golden Age. The highlight of the movie was the Ester Williams style aqua ballet and the Gene Kellyesque musical number. These two sequences are so well-executed that I would love to see the Coens direct a musical, a Golden Age/Busby Berkeley/Astaire-Rodgers style musical. These two scenes prove that they know how to shot and edit a dance number. There are a lot of directors of modern musicals that do not know hoe to do that, this coming from the lack of productions on this level that are in modern musicals. The last musical that I can think of that had production numbers on that level was “Chicago” from 2002, 14 years ago. Then there is the film within the film, which bears the same subtitle as William Wyler’s classic “Ben-Hur,” “A Tale of the Christ.” Clearly the film within the film is meant as a loving parody of “Ben-Hur,” and biblical epics in general.
“Hail, Caesar!” is both a loving homage and satire of Golden Age Hollywood and despite a messy, disjointed plot, manages to be a fun and entertaining watch. Compared to the rest of the films by the Coen Brothers, “Hail, Caesar!” is not among their best, but is not among their worst either.