Dir: Joel & Ethan Coen (2015)
American legends Joel and Ethan Coen have hardly put a foot wrong since their first family and friends funded noir Blood Simple. Their fiercely independent spirit and single-minded vision has really only wavered slightly with even their most die-hard fans with the slightly average one two of Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers. They silenced doubters after three-year gap with the masterful No Country For Old Men and have produced some of their greatest work since. Hail, Caesar!, their 17th feature is a tight gleeful amalgamation of what they do best but don’t let the trailer fool you, it’s also, perhaps, one of their weirdest films to date.
The film is mainly concerned with day in life of a 1950s studio fixer named Mannix (a clenched jawed and incredible Josh Brolin) and his efforts to rescue his studio’s biggest cash cow, Baird Witlock, played with reliable goofy charm by Coen fave, George Clooney. We’re whipped from film set to film set, from back lot to back lot as the master directors weave a weird kidnapping tale which could only be their own. Though it is wildly entertaining, there’s much more to Hail, Caesar! than a goof, even on the first watch; This vintage Hollywood love letter, loaded with eye-popping set pieces and tap routines from a sassy mermaid Scarlett Johansson and an always up for it Channing Tatum, has that very Coen after glow of a frustrating missing (or perhaps hidden) piece.
The Technicolor joy of the film harbours an undeniable elusiveness. The way No Country For Old Men refocused on Tommy Lee Jones and his gruff sheriff or the way a forgettable piece of A Serious Man destroyed audiences and Michael Stuhlbarg, Hail Caesar! holds similar diabolical asperations. Though it’s hard to find exactly where they spring from. Witlock’s commie captors pontificating in a Malibu beach house, Mannix’s reactionary religious confessions, Tilda Swinton‘s double role playing twin sister gossip columnists, and something very red and very large lurking just off the coast all add buckets to the spiritual confusion that the writers love to splash over all of their leads of late. Not to mention the scene stealing drawl of Alden Ehrenreich as a Texan Roy Rogers inspired singing cowboy, way out of his depth, playing a Brit with a stiff upper lip.
The turmoil in almost every character is about where they belong and in a grander idea where Hollywood belongs today and in the future. The clues could be there in this crazy picture somewhere and although Hail, Caesar! doesn’t quite hit the laugh out loud moments that the Coen’s can do so well it is a consistently fun, inventive and incredibly odd ride which has a definite capacity to nag at you for days after.