Joel and Ethan Coen are certainly up there, amongst some of cinema's finest writers and directors - with lots of renowned work, such as Fargo or The Big Lebowski. 3 years since their last project, 2013's incredible Inside Llewyn Davis, and the Coen Brothers are back, this time with Hail, Caesar!. Having gotten to see the film at this year's Glasgow Film Fest, here's my review of it.
Some of all-time favourite films, movies such as The Big Lebowski or No Country For Old Men, came from the tour de force that is the Coen Brothers. I am a huge fan of their work and love pretty much every movie they have released yet. The pair are a force to be reckoned with and always deliver highly with their projects so, of course, when it's revealed that they'll be making a new movie, there tends to be a lot of excitement surrounding it. The same applies to their latest picture, Hail, Caesar!, which is their love letter to Hollywood. The film was not only just one of my most anticipated of this year's Glasgow Film Fest (it opened the event) but it was just generally one of my most anticipated films of the year and, as someone that loves the Coen Brothers' work and has been inspired by them for years, I went in with very high expectations so it's with great relief and joy and satisfaction that I can say that this movie did not disappoint. I had a blast with Hail, Caesar!; it's a marvellous picture that is very Coens-esque. Sure, it's not as accomplished and masterful as some of their other films but it is certainly yet another stunner indeed.
We open to see Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) in the church confessional, a location that the stress of his job often leads him to. As the Head of property protection at Capitol Pictures, his job requires him to solve problems by making sure that the actors working for his studio are seen as saintly, virtuous and respectable people in the public eye, shielding them from any scandals and keeping their reputations in-tact, as the studio wants these actors to be seen. However, needless to say, his job isn't as easy as it may seem. The trouble is, some of the people that Mannix is required to keep in good light aren't the best of people and make his job a little harder - most notably, the sweetheart actress DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johannson) who is a rough-talking, rebel gal with two marriages behind the facade. However, things really begin to go awry for Mannix when his studio's biggest actor Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped on the set of their latest movie, Hail, Caesar, with a $100,000 ransom. Not only does Eddie have to get the funds to pay the ransom and get Baird back to finish the film but he has to do so whilst trying to avoid the snooping gossip columnist twins Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton).
With lots of great, artistic and unique projects under their belts, Joel and Ethan are fairly knowledgeable when it comes to Hollywood and Hail, Caesar! is a love letter to old-school 1950's Hollywood, almost like how Quentin Tarantino's recent The Hateful Eight was a throwback to old-school cinema, shot with 70mm cameras and released with a 70mm 'roadshow experience', complete with an interval and overture and even a programme. Whilst the Coen Brothers don't quite go to that extent, their latest endeavour still very much shows their deep affection and love for Hollywood and the arts, capturing the innocence and charm of old pictures. However, they don't detract from just how flawed it is too, thriving in the portrayal of the blissful ignorance and contrived, superficial nature of it all too. To an extent, this is also a period piece of sorts. The style and feel of this picture is very old-school and it really feels and looks as though it would belong right at home in this time, an old-school classic perhaps - like some of the ones that playfully inspired this in the first place.
As I've mentioned, Hail, Caesar! is classic Coen Brothers. For starters, this film is packed with their iconic, signature comedic style and jokes - absurd and silly and just so simple yet effective. This film is hilarious and there are quite a few big, gut-bustingly funny scenes. It's great to see the pair finally returning to their roots and doing yet another comedy. The sets and characters and costumes and spoofs of the old Hollywood provide a palette in which the brothers take a lot of laughs from - Ralph Fiennes is particularly comedic as the sophisticated filmmaker Laurence Lorenz and the scene involving Alden Ehrenreich's overtly optimistic, if never quite too great, actor Hobie Doyle from the trailer, in its full glory and in context, is a memorable highlight. There are plenty of industry in-jokes on offer and the references and links to some of the Coens' other works like Barton Fink or The Big Lebowksi in abundance too, some more subtle than others, which is a treat for all the sharper movie-goers that are fond of the brothers' works.
As expected, the dialogue in this film is riveting. The screenplay is so well-written and flourishes in wit and intellect. Joel and Ethan are as incredible with their writing as they are with their directing, which is, as usual, masterful here; the pair have such slick and seamless direction and their filmmaking craftsmanship is of high finesse and quality. Long-time collaborator Roger Deakins returns as DP too and the cinematography in Hail, Caesar! is so crisp and gorgeous. Each shot is luscious and defined and this is a remarkably beautiful looking film that revels in its style and 1950s Hollywood look. Honestly, this is a very well-made and well-acted film that is beautifully directed and filmed. All the performances are great; the Coens have assembled a stellar ensemble and they really manage to get the best from their cast - Josh Brolin is a standout but everyone is fantastic, from Tatum to Swinton to Johannson to Clooney (this is his fourth Coens film).
As well as their signature comedic style, the Coen Brothers are often known for their out-of-the-box ideas and their ingenuity and the outlandish absurdity they inject into their proceedings and it's prominent in their latest picture too. This is a crazy film that is all over the place, bursting with energy and colour and silliness. However, where the disjointed narrative worked for a film like The Big Lebowksi, matching the disjointed nature of Jeff Bridges' The Dude, it really hinders Hail, Caesar!. There's so much going on, from Scarlett Johannson's DeeAnna playing a mermaid, surrounded by synchronised swimmers and a mechanical whale to a brilliant dance number featuring a tap-dancing Channing Tatum and his merry band of accompanying sailors. It's all totally bonkers and is very entertaining to watch but, ultimately, these various subplots don't have an effect on the overall outcome of the premise and don't do much in driving the story. The narrative feels a little too convoluted and all over the place and the film isn't quite as cohesive and compact as it could be. But, perhaps there's just a deeper, more complicated Coens-esque meaning behind it all that we've not spotted yet. Or, perhaps they just had fun with this and there's nothing more to it and the joke is on us for looking for something more.
Whatever the case may be, Hail, Caesar! is another dazzling stunner of a picture for the pair of filmmakers to add to their impressive filmography. It's a marvellously well-made film that is funny, smart, stylish, ingenious and just totally bonkers. The film is a competent watch for moviegoers but made all the more compelling for those that can appreciate the work of the Coen's. Sure, Hail, Caesar! isn't without flaw and it's all a little too convoluted and complicated; it's certainly not the brothers' best film - far from it, in fact - but it doesn't need to be. This is still an entertaining picture, nonetheless, and one that strives on its own merits. The Coen Brothers have delivered another great picture and that's all that matters.
Smart, slick and hilarious, Hail, Caesar! is classic Joel and Ethan Coen - an absurd, stylish and ingeniously great and fun picture.
About the Author
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.