Hail, Caesar! review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
The Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar! fits the expected bill for how they approach comedy. It’s a twisted tale of strange characters, weird plots and a scattershot pace. Such direction doesn’t exactly mesh with the Coen’s more dramatic masterpieces, but they do have their own unique charm.
Hail, Caesar! is an amusing picture, but only in its pastiche format of scenes rather than as a whole. Similar to their work on Burn After Reading, there are dozens of funny scenes amid a rather scattershot script of 1950’s Hollywood. The basic premise is that legendary actor Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped during filming of an ancient Rome film production. His disappearance sets off a chain reaction of events and a headache for the studio’s scandal fixer, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). As he scrambles to keep the studio on schedule and track down the missing Whitlock, several odd characters grace the screen in scenes that gleefully parody the era. From the off nature of one-trick actors to the paranoia of communism, the picture rarely misses an opportunity to find some humor in this setting.
This may also be the movie’s biggest shortfall in how it delights in humor more segmented than whole. At least, it would be a shortfall if the cast and individual scenes were not as amusing as the central story arc. We don’t spend all that much time with George Clooney or his communist kidnappers that indoctrinate him. It’s an interesting and funny subject, but not strong enough to hold the picture even with its surprising what-if climax.
The real meat of this picture is the general Hollywood satire with an all-star cast eating up scenery. Channing Tatum dresses up as a sailor and tap-dances on tables while filming a musical. Frances McDormand plays back dailies as an editor with lightning fast reflexes so quick her clothing can get caught in the projector. Ralph Fiennes plays a European director that has a boiling frustration with his Southern-speaking actor played by Alden Ehrenreich. A table of religious figures with Robert Picardo as the rabbi bickers and squabble as Mannix asks the question if their studio portrayed Jesus right. Star after star is trotted out in classic movie costumes for ludicrous scenes of Hollywood’s golden era peeled back and torn down for the sake of comedy.
Though the movie becomes somewhat scattershot in its odd attempt at a story, I must admit that this type of satire hit the right beats for a movie lover. We tend to look back on the past for all its treasures and none of its trash. It’s the reason most audiences are familiar with 1966’s classic western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, but not 1966’s historical disaster Khartoum. The great movies also provide a bit of escapism towards the era’s tough times of the Red Scare and paranoia about television being favored over cinemas. The Coen Brothers have an affectionate love for finding the darkness and drama of the industry and painting it with a comedic brush.
Hail, Caesar! is certainly an acquired taste built more for the cinemaphile that delights in the mockery of a unique time in moviemaking history. But if you find yourself in that category, this movie is a riot of playful jabs and homages to an era of musicals, historical epics and general schlocky movies of the 1950’s.