Reviews in the Nick of Time: Hail, Caesar!

by wjw on February 14, 2016

MV5BMjQyODc3MTI2NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDMxMjU2NzE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Hail, Caesar is a love letter from the Coen Brothers to Old Hollywood, and if you’re a fan of old movies, this is the movie they made just for you.  The film is even better if you have any memories of Esther Williams flicks, hokey Victor Mature historical epics, and anything with singing cowboys and/or Carmen Miranda.

And hey, the star power! George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Jonah Hill, Francis McDormand, Channing Tatum, and Alden Ehrenreich– who is a newcomer, so far as I can tell, but in the role of a singing cowboy and rope-trick artiste holds his own against all the Oscar winners.

This film may be a love letter, but of course it’s a love letter from the Coen Brothers, which means the love in question is pretty kinky.  Their protagonist is Eddie Mannix, a real-life movie producer and fixer at MGM, here transplanted to the fictional Capitol Pictures, and whose job consists of scheming to keep his stars’ drunkenness, adulteries, drug use, and other misbehavior out of the news.

This premise could have been more fun than it actually proves to be, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had.  Scarlett Johansson, as the swimming star, gets to play a huge musical number reminiscent of any number of Esther Williams’ big pictures.  Channing Tatum, almost unrecognizable, plays a Gene Kelly-esque singer/dancer in a huge dance number, and pulls it off. George Clooney convincingly plays an imbecile, which is a role he’s played for the Coens before.

A rather large number of cast members are credited as “Communist writer.”

There’s also a certain amount of chutzpah involved in casting Ralph Fiennes in a movie that parodies Risen, brother Joseph Fiennes’ own Biblical epic, which isn’t even released yet!

There are a lot of clever scenes, but not all of the subplots connect in any way to the main story, which involved Clooney’s character being kidnapped off the set of his own cheesy biblical epic.

What could have held it all together is the character of Eddie Mannix, but here I think the Coens did us a disservice.  Their Eddie Mannix is a religious, humorless straight arrow who goes to confession every day, and who seems to think of his job as service to God.  The real Eddie Mannix was much more interesting, with a long-term Japanese mistress, and a wife involved in a long-term affaire with Superman star George Reeves. (For which see Allen Coulter’s Hollywoodland.)  Maybe the Coens didn’t want to cover the same ground as Hollywoodland, but I think it would have made Mannix a more interesting character to have him indulge in some of the same sins as the actors he was trying to discipline.

Regardless of whether the movie holds together as well as it should, it’s certainly worth seeing.  It’s Valentine’s Day, and everyone deserves a love letter.

mearsk February 15, 2016 at 10:27 am

I watched this yesterday. I found it to be rather… anticlimactic… It seemed mostly an excuse to put modern stars into scenes from 50s movies that we don’t see anymore, with next to no actual plot.

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