By Peter Roslovich
The Coen Brothers are certainly some of the greatest living directors working today. Their films have become very famous for paying homage to older films while, at the same time, managing to change and combine genres (giving them their reputation as genre-benders). Some examples of this are the black comedy-thriller, Fargo, the contemporary western, No Country For Old Men, and the supernatural horror-drama-black comedy-genre defying Barton Fink. These films are considered some of the greatest of all time and for their new film, Hail, Caesar!, they have attempted to create a film that is every genre of the past at once that can be seen as either a fun homage or a disorienting mess.
Even though the plot and characters are fictional it follows the real life Eddie Mannix who was a Hollywood executive during the first half of the twentieth century best known as a “fixer”. The story takes place during one day in the early 1950s and Mannix (Josh Brolin) has to solve the problems of the day in the film studio where he works at, most notably the kidnapping of movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). However, the plot is rather superficial as most of the movie is watching movies that are being made by people in the film studio. It sounds a bit odd, but since part of Mannix’s job is watching movies and making sure they are on the right track that is what a majority of the film is and it is a very clever way in which the Coens are able to create more films within the film. With almost each one being a different genre, the Coens create a western, an epic, a romantic drama, a noir, a submarine film, and a musical all within the 100-minute run time. The film studio itself feels very alive and fleshed out, with everybody always doing something; the film has a constant energy. Characters come and go, sometimes without any background, as if the audience is already supposed to know who they are (which is rather fitting since most of the characters are movie stars). The film drops you into its world and without a story to guide you through, it can get really confusing and disorientating really quickly. However, it truly doesn’t seem like a film that cares much about telling a great story, but more about writing a love letter to the glamour age of Hollywood. More of a film for the filmmaker than for the audience. Trying to fully comprehend what is happening at all times in the film is near impossible and arguably unnecessary. It seems more like a film that is better being viewed for all the love and energy being put into it.
On the production side, the film is perfectly cast even though some performances can last only a few minutes all the actors add a certain amount of humor by incorporating a certain part of themselves into the performance. For example, George Clooney plays a naïve character due to his movie stardom status who seems to just take everything as it comes to him and it only makes it funnier because George Clooney one of the most respected actors today is playing him. The cinematography by frequent Coens Brother collaborator, Roger Deakins, is beautiful – managing to change every time the genre changes to really add to the experience. When it’s a musical the film is very colorful and vivid, but when it becomes a noir, dark shadows are cast and it begins to rain.
Conclusion: While certainly not the Coens best film, with knowledge of early Hollywood and the types of films that came out of it the film is a fun love letter to the glamour age of cinema that will most likely be enjoyed most by cinephiles.