The latest film from Joel and Ethan Coen, Hail, Caesar!, is a tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood and its changing climate in the 1950’s. The premise follows a fixer named Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who, aside from cleaning up the usual messes the industry does not want the public to know, is tasked with solving the disappearance of a leading man Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). Abducted by a mysterious group known as The Future, whose plans involve destroying Hollywood and convincing Mannix to join their ranks, Whitlock’s absence has sent the studio into a swirl of chaos. Hilarity quickly ensues as Mannix must deal with twin gossip columnists, filmmakers, religious leaders, a pregnant leading lady, and a young cowboy actor who, by chance, gets thrust into a costume drama.
Taking a gleefully nostalgic look at an era were escapist films thrived – regardless of whether it was a costume drama, a musical with sailors and/or mermaids, or a western – the Coens find great humor in observing how Mannix, a seemingly decent man who goes to church to confess almost daily, navigates the crazy world of Hollywood. Keeping things simple by using a 1:33:1 aspect ratio, and aided by regular collaborators such as cinematographer Roger Deakins, production designer Jess Gonchor, and costume designer Mary Zophres, Hail, Caesar! does a wonderful job of capturing the essence of the time period. The brothers even went as far as editing the films themselves, under the alias Roderick Jaynes, to ensure the use rhythmic cuts and dissolves matched the style of films from that era.
Josh Brolin and George Clooney give sensational performance in the roles of Mannix and Whitlock, bringing a lot of humor to the buffoonish characters they portray. Clooney’s work is supported by equally strong performances from the likes of Tilda Swinton, in a hilarious role of dueling twin gossip columnists who are trying to scoop each other on the story of Whitlock’s disappearance, and Ralph Fiennes, as a filmmaker forced to work with the inexperienced singing cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich, who is a revelation in the film). In fact, it is hard to find a bad performance from the phenomenal ensemble, even Scarlett Johansson is brilliant in the small role of DeeAnna Moran, an Esther Williams-type starlet who is tries to keep her pregnancy from becoming a scandal.
Hail, Caesar! is a wonderful film from the Coen Brothers that, while silly at times, provides some witty commentary on Hollywood. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it does offer an entertaining look at a crucial period for an era on the brink of change.
© thevoid99 2016