Written and Driected by Joel and Ethen Coen
Review Written by John Slavnik
Hail, Caesar! (yes, that’s how it is spelled) is the latest film from the Coen Brothers which kicks off February AFTER the magnificent January moviegoers just endured. The film’s goal is to create an homage to/farce of post-war Hollywood using some of the biggest stars of today’s Hollywood. The cast is a proper “who’s who” of Hollywood talent. Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Ralph Finnes, Josh Brolin, Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton, George Clooney and buttery narration from Michael Gambon. A cast like that could make a prospective member of the audience think: “Gee Mr. Slavnik! This must be an epic film of grand scale and heavy themes!” To that prospective audience member, I say this: it is not an epic film of weight and grandeur. It is a screwball comedy that has hints of satire and commentary on the Hollywood of days gone by, but is far more interested in quick, witty jokes at the expense of a 5-star cast. It is a cartoon in everything from the over-the-top performances (there is quite literally a scene of Josh Brolin grabbing Clooney by the straps on his costume and slapping him silly to get a point across) and absurd situations.
What’s the plot? I have no idea. It’s not a movie with a concrete opening, middle and closing. It is a series of vignettes that are loosely tied together by a plot involving Capitol Studios “fixer” Eddie Mannix (John Brolin) and his quest to solve the problem of one of his biggest stars (George Clooney) being kidnapped. Intrigue ensues including everything from arranged adoptions, gossip columnists (Tilda Swinton playing twins), communist plots to undermine the studio and lots and lots of parodies of 1950’s genre films.
In a darker and more thematic Coen Brothers film I would criticize the flimsy plot and episodic feel, but Hail, Caesar! Is a screwball comedy and only one thing really matters with a screwball comedy: Is it funny?
The answer is yes. Consistently, riotously and intelligently so. Hail, Caesar! holds some comparisons to Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel with the type of humor it partakes in. The jokes are fast, witty and tight. The Coen Brothers take their time with their comedy, sometimes delivering the punchline in a different scene for bigger impact. Along with the comedy there comes lots of loving homage to/parodies of old Hollywood. There are extensive recreations of Gene Kelly-type musicals, classic westerns, soap-opera drama and expensive “sandals and sand” epics. Each of these recreations are witty, well crafted and beautiful to watch in some cases.
Hail, Caesar! is not a Coen Brothers epic but it is very intelligent, engaging, beautiful to marvel at, and will probably end up as the best comedy of 2016. A-