“Rough business, this movie business. I’m gonna have to go back to loan-sharking just to take a rest.”
-Chili Palmer (Get Shorty)
Joel and Ethan Cohen have made everything from slapstick comedies to dark noir blood baths. The Ladykillers was by far their worst reviewed film. A close second was The Hudsucker Proxy. The thing these films have in common is they are both comedies. Because their comedic sensibility is unique, when they venture into the comedic realm, there is a chance that they will make another Ladykillers. Hail, Caesar is a mix of both of those films with a touch of O Brother, Where Art Thou? The only catch is Hail, Caesar is good. It falls closer to O Brother than the other two films, but the comedic beats are not as obvious or as funny. Hail, Caesar is a film for fans of both the Cohen brothers and cinema.
The plot is one of the thinnest I’ve seen from the brothers. Eddie Mannix, played by Josh Brolin, is trying to solve all the problems of the actors and filmmakers at Capitol Pictures. His latest assignments involve a disgruntled director, a singing cowboy, a beautiful swimmer, and a handsome dancer. Mannix faces his biggest challenge when George Clooney’s character Baird Whitlock gets abducted while in costume for the studio’s blockbuster epic “Hail, Caesar!” If the studio doesn’t pay the $100,000 ransom, it’s the end of the line for the movie star and the film. But the film is a lot more than any of that.
Brolin gives a straight forward yet nuanced performance. Even though the movie has a centric plot, the film is really about Mannix’s search for meaning in his career. He has a competing offer for a better job with Lockheed, and the movie really is about his internal conflict. I am not a huge fan of Brolin, but in Cohen brother films he seems to fit perfectly. His stocky stature and vocal bravado are always subverted by their scripts.
The real meat of this film, however, is in its cameos. Scarlett Johansson as DeeAnna Moran has one of my favorite scenes from the movie before she is quietly never seen or heard from again. Channing Tatum gives the performance of a lifetime as a Fred Astaire-esq dance king. His role calls for very few lines but is extremely physical. Not to be out done, Ralph Fiennes, George Clooney, Jonah Hill, and Tilda Swinton all give terrific performances. The real scene stealer is Alden Ehrenreich. As the Gene Autry singing and gun-slinging cowboy of Capitol Films, Hobie Doyle is the best character of the film. Ehrenreich is someone I’ve never heard of before this film, but he holds his own with some amazing actors, and in fact made this film work for me.
Most people would assume that the direction and writing would be phenomenal, and they are. The only fault I could really find in the film is that it might be too niche’ for some. There are tons of movie insider jokes and assumptions. I could see where the casual filmgoer might not understand the film and its humor. One could also call the film pretentious or indulgent, but I truly don’t think that’s the case. I feel as though the Cohens are simply trying to grasp their own place within the business. The film toils in religion, politics, and economics in a very subtle and enlightening way that might not be clearly seen on a first viewing.
Hail, Caesar is a deserving homage to the films of the Golden Age of Cinema. Josh Brolin is terrific as the fictionalized version of a real life Hollywood fixer. The ensemble cast is terrific. Alden Ehrenreich is a revelation, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him. The direction and script are perfect. But even with all that praise, the Cohen brothers are a strange success in Hollywood. Their films are always done with skill and thoughtfulness, but they are always a little weird. Hail, Caesar is just that… a little weird. It’s a film I find as a delight, but I would be remiss not to recognize that it will not be for everyone.