Friday, February 5, 2016

Hail, Caesar!

With Hail, Caesar! the Coen Brothers take a few good-natured stabs at the golden age of movies while celebrating, and lampooning, the studio system of Hollywood during the early days of the Cold War. Providing a film where Channing Tatum gets to play Fred Astaire and Tilda Swinton does double-duty as twin gossip columnists, I wouldn't go so far to call it a screwball comedy, but Hail, Caesar! certainly does have a few screws loose (in mostly the right places).

Josh Brolin stars as studio exec Eddie Mannix dodging offers to leave the studio for a more stable job while overseeing a big-budget spectacular about a Roman general's encounter with Jesus Christ when his star (George Clooney) is kidnapped by a group of Hollywood writers who are all Communists (Fisher Stevens, Patrick Fischler, Tom Musgrave, David Krumholtz, Greg Baldwin, and Patrick Carroll).

Not all the film works. Far too much time is wasted on Mannix being wooed by an airline, and, while opening up intriguing ideas about outside-the-box solutions to problems, the subplot involving Scarlett Johansson as a single pregnant starlet fizzles. More successful is Alden Ehrenreich as a Western star struggling with his role in straightforward drama.

Hail, Caesar! won't rank among Ethan Coen and Joel Coen's best films. Too reliant at times on inside jokes, the film also struggles to wrap up its various plot threads in a third act that limps to the finish line. While not as polished as some of their other films, Hail, Caesar! is still quite enjoyable thanks largely to Clooney relishing the opportunity to mug or the camera and Brolin playing a noir-ish character in a film far too goofy to ever fit into that genre. Ralph Fiennes also steals several scenes as a director beside himself after being saddled with an actor who can't actually, you know, act.

Beneath the laughs the film showcases the Coens' love of movies along with the messy behind-the-scenes zaniness that goes on to make the magic happen in front of the camera. There's also more to the plot going on that is immediately evident. I'm not sure what statement the pair are making about blacklisted Hollywood writers being actual Communists during the Red Scare, and not just unfairly blackballed individuals, but Clooney's unorthodox kidnapping by the group is entertaining enough on its own without needing to delve too deeply into larger themes.

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