Count me in whenever there is a new Coen Brothers movie in town. This multiple Oscar-winning duo has proven they can do it all, from drama to comedy and back again. And now they literally do do it all with their latest, Hail, Caesar!, but they are firmly back in comedy with this sly, wickedly funny and dead-on homage to the Hollywood of the early 50’s.
Although the basic plot revolves around the kidnapping of the fictional Capitol Studio’s top star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) as he is filming their expensive new biblical epic Hail, Caesar, the Coens have much more on their mind in sending up various kinds of movies of the day, and so we get all sorts of takeoffs, including a Gene Kelly-style musical number with Channing Tatum as a toe tapping sailor, a Busby Berkeley musical number set in a swimming pool with Scarlett Johansson channeling her best Esther Williams, a British-style drawing room drama saddled with an inept cowboy star and on and on.
As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch) the movies within this movie are pure delight and in most cases, right on the money. You can tell the Coens are having a great time visiting this period in movie history and they run with it. At the center of it all is studio VP and “fixer” Eddie Mannix, splendidly played by Josh Brolin who stoically keeps the studio from collapsing. Mannix, unlike the other characters in this film, was a real movie exec who basically was able to shut down any scandals before they hit the press. As portrayed here, the filmmakers have obviously taken license with the whole truth but intriguingly keep his name. This is NOT your father’s biopic, folks. At any rate it seems Mannix, a man of deep Catholic faith, will do anything to keep the trains running on time and make sure all of his stars and filmmakers are happy campers. He drifts from set to set putting out fires until he really has a serious one as production on their prized epic is threatened when Whitlock is snatched and held captive in Malibu (of course) by a group of HUAC -type communist-leaning screenwriters who have grown disgruntled with the whole system. Whitlock is not the brightest bulb going and Clooney has lots of fun, in tunic and all, making him into a complete doofus.
But Mannix has much more to deal with and there are some priceless scenes where he tries to keep the peace. One is where he saves the sexually promiscuous musical darling Johansson plays by arranging (with the help of legal fixer/whiz Jonah Hill) for her to adopt her own natural child to avoid a career-ending scandal. Something like that happened in real life to Loretta Young, as the Hollywood of then was far removed from the TMZ-driven, video crazy, tweet-manic industry of today. Another great scene takes place on the very proper set of director Laurence Laurentz’s stiff drama Merrily We Are where Laurentz patiently tries to help popular cowboy star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) pronounce just one of his lines without a twang. The exchange between a brilliant Fiennes and Ehrenreich is worthy of an Abbott and Costello routine. And I guess it shouldn’t be too much of a revelation at this point, but boy can Tatum dance. He does Gene Kelly proud in a rousing musical sequence that looks like it came straight out of On The Town. In fact, can I say something blasphemous for purists? — it’s better. The entire cast is perfectly chosen and delivers on every level. I wanted to see even more of Johansson’s foul-mouthed musical swimming queen and couldn’t get enough of Tilda Swinton’s riotous turn as twin gossip columnists Thora and Thesally Thacker (gotta love the names), who basically appear to be Hedda Hopper sliced in two.
Production values here are superb, with big props to Roger Deakins’ cinematography which works on many different levels, as does Carter Burwell’s all-purpose score. Producers are Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Eric Fellner and Tim Beavan. It’s a movie to love for movie – and Coen Brothers – lovers everywhere.
Do you plan to see Hail, Caesar!? Let us know what you think.