Review

Hail, Caesar! is a return to the type of slapstick comedy only the Coen brothers could produce.  Their filmography goes back more than thirty-years, tackling a wide array of genres, including dark period-pieces like Miller’s Crossing, slap-stick comedies like Burn After Reading, and witty comedy-dramas like 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.  While covering every genre imaginable (including musicals), their films generally are about one thing, money.  Even when the money in a Coen picture is the MacGuffin (noun: In film, a plot device that has no specific meaning or purpose other than to advance the story; any situation that motivates the action of a film either artificially or substantively; also written MacGuffin), their message is simple- greed is mans downfall.  Hail, Caesar! is set around a kidnapping and ransom, but the story is much deeper that that. Here’s a short synopsis.

Hail Caesar! Follows a day in the life of Eddie Mannix, a Hollywood fixer for Capitol 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.

With Hail, Caesar!, audiences will find themselves in familiar Coen territory.  The film features everything that sets a Coen brothers picture apart from the rest of the heard, most of all their distinct comedic sensibilities.1950’s Hollywood is the backdrop to this comedy, and the brothers just as easily poke-fun at the absurdity of this era as they do in paying homage to it.   It was a goofy time in Hollywood.  With every Casablanca there were 100 films that were- not so great.  This “golden” era in Hollywood is the perfect subject for the Coen brothers to pick apart, and casting the right actors seems like something they do every film.

While the cast is as star-studded as one would expect from the filmmakers, Josh Brolin carries the film–as he’s on screen about 90 percent of the time.  Great actors pop up here and there, but it’s Brolin’s Eddie Mannix–who much like his character within the film–must hold the film together.  Brolin is excellent at facilitating the best performances out of his co-stars, which make their short appearances quite memorable.  Every character from Clooney’s dumb-witted Baird Whitlock to Frances McDormand’s C.C. Calhoun (who despite making an extended cameo, is one of the more memorable characters), is an over-the-top representation of people from this era, yet it works so perfectly at the same time.

Where does Hail, Caesar! fall on the Coen brothers unbelievably large and diverse filmography?  Somewhere in the middle.  That is in no way fully representative of the quality of the film, rather, the quality of their filmography.  Their distinct voice has shaped the way their movies play to audience, and theres nothing quite like a Coen brothers picture.  Aesthetically, Hail, Caesar! is right up there with the best of them.  Multiple Academy-Award Nominee Roger Deakins returns as cinematographer, which marks his twelfth collaboration with the Coen’s, helping shape the way their entire film plays out visually.

Personally speaking, the problem going into any Coen brothers picture is that we expect such perfection.  Unreasonable expectations are something I put on the filmmakers, but they’re so talented it seems reasonable–at least it feels reasonable at the time.  Hail, Caesar! is far from perfect, but everything it gets right makes me forget about what little it doesn’t do.  The main problem with the film is the pacing.  Hail, Caesar! struggles to get in a cohesive rhythm and frequently takes you out of the story with an overly extended scene or character.  While pacing and rhythm can throw off an entire film, it’s a minor hiccup in Hail, Caesar!, and doesn’t ruin the experience by any means.  It’s just when you look back at the film critically you notice some faults, but the movie will be too hilarious for most to catch anything wrong.

Hail, Caesar! is another hilarious film to add to the Coen brothers resume.  The brothers excel at poking-fun while paying their respects to the 1950’s era Hollywood that seems to have a special place in their hearts.  They insult the era while respecting it at the same time, much like a British insult (which stereotypically seems to be true).  Hail, Caesar! is more in line with The Ladykillers than their darker comedies like a Fargo, and it’s unmistakably Coen-esque in its delivery.  Hail, Caesar! is a low-stakes comedy which won’t have you guessing “who-done-it”, or keep you on the edge of your seat, but you will be entertained and laughing throughout.

Hail, Caesar! is rated PG-13 and is now playing in theaters nationwide.



About the Author

Peter Towe
Peter Towe
A graduate of UMASS Boston, I have successfully put off getting a "real" job, and continue to watch, produce, review, and obsess over movies. I lived in Boston while I completed my degree, and now live in Chicago trying the improv thing.