by Joseph Saulnier
The Coen Brothers are at it again with Hail, Caeser! Set in Hollywood in the 1950s, the film follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a “Hollywood Fixer” as he tries to navigate some pretty outrageous pitfalls of the movie studio he works for. These pitfalls include the biggest movie star on the lot, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) getting kidnapped, leading lady DeeAnna Moran (Scarlet Johansson) about to have a child out of wedlock, nosy twin reporters Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton), and western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) butting heads with director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) as he moves into a new type of role for him. All while he is trying to quit smoking. This is not going to be easy.
In true Coen fashion, this movie is just loaded with stars. From small cameos, to bigger roles, you will see the likes of Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand, Alison Pill, and many, many more. Half the fun of the movie is finding these yourself.
Brolin is essentially the star of the film as you are seeing several different stories throughout the movie, and he is the connection between them all. With top notch performances from all cast members, I can’t help but fell how much fun they had while making this film. Which sets the audience at ease as you know, inherently, that the movie is not necessarily meant to be taken serious, at least not as serious as other films out right now such as Room or Brooklyn.
It was an interesting decision to release the film this time of year. Typically, Coen Brothers films are considered award worthy. So why release it now, which is a time of year often considered award purgatory. If they wanted to be considered for an award, such as a Golden Globe or an Oscar, why not release it before the first of the year, or at the end of this year to be fresh in mind for next year’s award season. Well it’s simple. The film is good, but not great. And I think the Coens know this. The film is funny, and has a unique twist on some of the hot topics of the 1950s added in, but going up against some of the other films in award contention it is not likely to succeed. So, release it now, let it have a good run (better than it would have against the other award contenders), and not worry about the politics of Hollywood. Then again, maybe that was there plan. A subtle protest against what the awards circus that the Golden Globes and Academy Awards have become. I wouldn’t put it past them for this.
The bottom line is with a cast of hundreds (not really, but practically), a good score, and an entertaining, if not somewhat cheesy, story (and acting), this is definitely a film worth checking out.
3.5 stars out of 5
Second Review by Don Guillory
As an historian and lover of film, I enjoy being transported through time with movies as the vehicle. The Coen Brothers’ new film Hail Caesar transports its audience into the “Golden Age” of Hollywood. With this film they allow for the viewers to examine the various political and social aspects at play during the period. In Hail Caesar, we are allowed to get an insider’s view of film studios and the various items that are being juggled by the studio manager Eddie Mannix, played by James Brolin, who is continuously fighting to solve the problems of his actors and directors. We bear witness to a young bombshell, played by Scarlett Johansen, who must rush to cover up her pregnancy or she stands to lose her “good girl” image, a singing cowboy whose image is being reshaped to fit with the changing times in the industry, a disgruntled director who demands perfection, a young handsome dancer with a secret who could destroy the studio, and the abduction of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the studio’s biggest star.
We are surrounded by metaphors and imagery that are entertaining, as well as, essential to the plot and direction of the film. The Coen Brothers allow for an examination of the way that people working within the industry are controlled by it and by public perception. We see that the chaos surrounding each of the actors’ lives is somewhat comforting. They need to have this disorder in order to have a sense of normalcy. The issues that are normal and natural for the public eye are considered to be counter to how they wish to exist. When their worlds collide and result in friction, we see how they must make sense of it all in order to return to a sense of equilibrium. Hail Caesar is an examination of the film industry during the early years of the Cold War and “Red Scare” in which America witnessed a battle of ideologies play out in our political arenas which caused many to become disenfranchised and marginalized within society.
Hail Caesar fits perfectly into the Coen Brothers body of work. There is symbolism throughout the collection of stories within the film which work well together in creating a definitive piece of art and historiography. They pay tribute to film of the late 1940s and early 1950s with their inclusion of westerns, religious themes, grand choreography, musicals, and romantic dramas. The film itself is a tribute to artistic expression and demonstrates a strong and valid historical lens applied to the creation of this film.