Review: 'Hail, Caeser!' Is a Love Letter To Old Hollywood

Jake Bridgman ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Josh Brolin in Hail, Caesar!. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.
Our satire monarchs Joel and Ethan Coen return to the screen with Hail, Caesar! an honest star-studded spoof of the whirring machine that was 1950’s Hollywood. Eliciting both nostalgia and goofy bravado at times, Hail, Caesar! is a multi-tiered clever comedy that touches on everything from religion, soviet insurrection, to the idiosyncrasies of the studio system era, all the while weaving various era-inspired narratives in unexpected ways that keep you engrossed in its ostentatious spectacle.
The film is saturated with parodies of biblical epics, sailor musicals, transatlantic dramas, and water ballets. So what happens? Ask the film’s leading character, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a Hollywood “fixer” working for Capitol Pictures (Yes, the same Capital Pictures from the 1991 Coen Brothers’ film Barton Fink), and he’ll tell you “too much!”. When Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the star of Capitol Pictures extravagant epic, “Hail, Caesar!” is kidnapped during production, Mannix must get him back on set to finish the costly picture. But in the meantime, he’s got a bevy of other tasks and problems to deal with: The studio’s starlet, Esther Williams-esque DeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) is pregnant out-of-wedlock. Ralph Fiennes’ prestigious cinéaste Lawrence Laurentz is out-of-his-wits frenetic with singin’ cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), as he tries to metamorphose him into more refined roles. Finally, Channing Tatum’s Gene Kelly esque hunk, Bert Gurney, whose Singin’ In the Rain dance moves, may be hiding darker motives.
Channing Tatum in Hail, Caesar!. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.
It’s worth noting that the film looks back with wide eyes at the spectacle of Old Hollywood. Two particular scenes are so brilliant that they transcend its own parody. The first is a symmetrical water ballet that conjures kaleidoscopic imagery and neat colors, starring Capitol’s blond beauty DeAnna Moran, teaching us why this absurd subgenre once had its reign on Hollywood. The second is a formidable full-blown production number with Tatum’s Burt Gurney and his genial sailor boys as they sing, dance on bars and have us laughing with physical comedy through marvelously precise choreography. It’s masterfully aware of its acute preciseness in production that films today have never been able to recreate.
The film delivers so much meticulous costuming and production design reminiscent of O Brother Where Art Thou making sure you’ll never have something boring to look at. Cinematographer Roger Deakins imagines each scene playfully and poignantly, always maintaining our attention. The score is beautifully composed and will get stuck in your head. The film is a win for Alden Ehrenreich, who delivers a sweet appearance. Clooney cannot seem to figure out just exactly how dimwitted Whitlock is. Josh Brolin performs well enough, but never maintains enough poise to detract from the attention every other character or joke gets.
George Clooney in Hail, Caesar!. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.
When Baird Whitlock is captured by a legion of spunky communist writers, he doesn’t try to escape; rather he remains casual in his demeanor, and is easily swayed by their preacher-like criticisms of capitalism without giving it much thought. Another example is a hysterical encounter between a Christian priest, a Rabbi, an Islamic scholar, and Protestant bishop, in which the four of them are asked by Mannix if the film is in any way offensive in it’s depiction of Christ. Much to his demise, the discussion turns into a hysterical squabble, poking fun at each religion and stereotype amounting to no real commentary on religion itself.
The Coen Brothers are definitely an acquired taste, and they invade every genre with a juvenile excitement. But they show here that while there may be more successful filmmakers, more socially critical filmmakers than them, no one loves the production of a film more than they do. However, the love is so evident that Hail, Caesar! unabashedly fails to adhere to a standard structure to simply have fun instead. There are no real act breaks, or character arcs, or any real resolution. It’s nihilist in its approach because it refuses to build an uneasy tension with any of its plot points. There is no real climax, as each subplot feeds into the other one, never quite resolving by awkwardly removing the need for resolution, making it difficult to choose which storyline is the main one.
What its splendor communicates is the need for escapist entertainment. Hail, Caesar! is a clever nihilist film, evoking our inner need to be entertained, refusing to be anything more than simply that.
Overall Rating: A-
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