Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Hail, Caesar! Review

When ya get down to brass tacks, Hail, Caesar! essentially works as a Coen Brothers directed fan film dedicated to waxing poetic about the various virtues of the assorted genres that were most popular among moviegoers in that era. Does that sound like a complaint? Well, rest assured, it is most certainly not; in fact, the clear devotion the Coen Brothers have for this time period becomes most infectious, while there's also more methodical material (primarily revolving around our lead character) intercut in between their various homages to the films of the past to balance things out a bit.

When you've got a problem with a big-name actor at the prestigious movie studio Capital Pictures, there's really only one guy you can call; Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). He can help sort out any quandary, no matter the size. But now, he may have stumbled into the biggest catastrophe of his career....A-list movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) has vanished. With Whitlock starring in the studios most important feature of the year (a faith-based movie entitled Hail, Caesar!) that still has a few crucial days of filming left, Mannix is going to try to sort out this predicament while also dealing with his own personal plight revolving around whether he should keep his current job or hop off to more financially prosperous grounds.

Putting Mannix, an ordinary everyman, at the center of this plot is a smart idea considering we're knee-deep in classic Coen Brothers farce territory here, the kind of storytelling terrain occupied by past feature film efforts like Burn After Reading, O Brother, Where Are Thou?, and The Big Lebowski. Placing Mannix as a calming presence in the midst of the seemingly endless amount of complications the actors around him get into provides plenty of amusement while strengthening the idea that maybe Mannix really is done with this whole tiring business. Brolin plays the character with more than a touch of "I'm-getting-too-old-for-this" in his personality, but he also retains an approachable demeanor that makes it easy to understand why people would come to him for assistance or talk to him in unpropitious times.

As Mannix navigates around the various sets at Capital Pictures, it's here that the obeisance that the filmmakers have for this period of filmmaking comes to roaring life, as various extended sequences (which allow cinematographer Roger Deakins to do some exemplary work, which is saying something considering his incredible resum) crop up designed to be reverent to the extravagant features of yore. And good Lord are these segments fun to watch, with particular highlights being a Scarlett Johansson mermaid routine (which looks like it must have taken forever to choreograph) and a song and dance number entitled We Won't See No Dames led by Channing Tatum decked out in sailor attire. Who knew this guy had such sweet vocals and tap-dancing moves??? His entire routine with his fellow seamen feels like it was plucked right out of a classic MGM musical, with the lyrics and dancing being as irresistible as the best showstoppers in the very movies it's paying homage to.

Of course, the various soundstages at Capital Pictures are not just for various sections devoted to classic cinema, they also allow for a cavalcade of well-known actors (namely Ralph Fiennes and Frances McDormand) to get memorable single scene cameos, as well as for Mannix to find a place of solace as he tries to figure out what to do with his job woes. Essentially, the new occupation he's being courted for is in the business of making atom bombs, bringing destruction and chaos to the world in contrast to his current employment that has him make sure movie star faux pas are kept under wraps and out of the gossip rags. Both the performance of Brolin and the script (written, of course, by the Coen Brothers) that the internal crisis of Mannix can work well as a piece of authentic drama while mingling peacefully with more heightened comical elements occurring around him.

This more sprawling nature found in the plot of Hail, Caesar! is not without its drawbacks of course. Fictitious Western movie star Hobbie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) factors heavily into the plot for much of the running time, but then he just abruptly vanishes from the final few scenes of the movie. On a sidenote, I'm almost certain this films blatantly farcical humor will not be to everyone's taste, but as for me, yeah, I kind of had a blast with this one. It's not the most weighty film The Coen Brothers have ever made or even their most successful lunacy driven comedy (Burn After Reading still holds that title for me), but it's such a fun 106 minute dive into an era of excess and strangeness.

Oh, and on a sidenote, I dare anyone not to be cackling whenever Tilda Swinton pops up on-screen. Trust me on this one,

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