Monday, February 8, 2016

[Review] Hail, Caesar!

After releasing the good but utterly drab Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen Brothers follow that up with some movie-within-a-movie action in the lighter and farcical romp Hail, Caesar!. The film shines with a bill of stars: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, and Jonah Hill.

Eddie Manix (Brolin) is a Hollywood studio executive, and the process of filming their coveted "prestige" epic (Hail, Caesar!), starring Baird Whitlock (Clooney) is underway. Things hit a snag when Whitlock is drugged, kidnapped, and held for ransom. The rest of the story revolves around Manix trying to find out who the hell is behind this and how to go about getting their star back.

This film is decidedly goofy. Aside from the Coen's usual witty dialogue and penchant for irony, they mine for humor in small situations--facial expressions, awkward silences, squeaky shoes... The scenes of filming movie scenes play out like blooper reel content, and we wouldn't want it any other way. It even contains sequences in which you might initially wonder why they're there, as they ruffle the cohesiveness and come off as filler. However, that filler is funny. Hilarious, even. No one is going to complain about a singing sailor Channing Tatum musical tap-dance number. The outskirting threads eventually connect toward the film's conclusion, but just barely.

The aesthetic strongly delves into that signature golden age of Hollywood feel, with its polished period detail and performance panache. And the themes tap into post-war Blacklist overtones, tabloid mishaps, and the strangeness of acting itself when you really think about it. The Coens, along with cinematographer Roger Deakins have always been great at framing and staging the picture. Here, they even make a bland and repetitive production studio lot look exquisite.

In the end, Hail, Caesar! seems like more of a run-around, rather than a lead-up to something more substantial (and that's okay), and it probably will go down as a minor Coen Bros film. But it's enjoyable nonetheless. A film about the Hollywood studio system should entertain, and that it does.


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