Ahh, the Coen Brothers. I was a bit of a late entrant to their work, and there are still films of their I need to see, but they have a style and flair I tend to enjoy a lot. So with their latest release, can they keep that movie sparkle going?
My time writing about this one will be shorter than usual, but I’ll try to compress in as much of my thoughts as possible. Set in the 1950’s in Hollywood when the glamour machine rolled on strong, we follow Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) whose task is to keep the actors and filmmakers on the straight and narrow, in order to keep their public image clean. Not easy when dealings with booze and lovers are common with the acting stars. But things get significantly more edgy when one of the biggest names Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) gets kidnapped and cannot be found. With the major production still to be completed, this is a job for Mannix to take on.
The story is a mix of both satire, and loving wonder of the old days of the film industry, where the actors had immense egos (even more so than today) and you look at all of the splendour with rose-tinted glasses. And the Coen Brothers really want you to admire this – the sets are breath-takingly gorgeous in design and layout. There are definite nods to genres such as the gritty Noir, Spaghetti Western, grand Musical, and epic narrative. They are some incredible set pieces, and don’t really seem to have any modern tech or feel running through their veins at all.
The stand out scenes include the musical number led by Channing Tatum, who is channelling his inner Gene Kelly to spectacular results. As well as the water sequence led by Scarlett Johanson, where the camera positioning really makes you stare on in awe. But things get even more interesting as you get introduced to the actors when the cameras are off, their personalities are wonderfully vibrant and captured, with the cast giving their all. Besides those already mentioned you have Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Feinnes, Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton, just to name a few. The Coens must have wanted to grab the evry best of Hollywood for this one, and I can’t see how anyone would have turned them down on the offer.
As for the film experience… initially it was very odd, just as how most of the director duo’s work is. But this time I was kind of finding it hard to connect to the delivery of the comedy and the direction the story was going. It is not what you’d call straight-forward, neither is it conservative either. It wasn’t until about halfway through when things finally clicked. The big sequences had caught my attention really well, and the method of comedy was hitting home. By the end when I had looked back on everything that had happened, my sentiment towards it was far more warm and positive than the beginning.
A lot of what brought me over is just down to how charming and interesting the characters are made in the script. They’re all given a bit of time to show themselves off, especially Alden’s character as we see him transition in image from stuntman, to rather simple, to totally charming. You’re never one hundred percent sure on who they really are, and that is one of the nice mysteries the movie presents for the audience. The Commnist arc is also very well played out, and adds the tone of curiosity that so much hinges upon.
But then again, this is a film that doesn’t really have any major arcs to complete, or a message to say, or indeed any linearity to the story. It is just lots of fun ideas put to paper, and then presented on screen for us to enjoy. I can understand if people didn’t like this – I mean, for half the movie I was worried I’d see the movie that was too. There’s no conventional hand rails to grip onto, and that might throw some people off. But even so, there’s a lot of very impressive sequences to enjoy, and the cast is lovingly enjoyable to watch play some fun on the Hollywood style of old.
“Hail, Caesar”, like most creations by the Coen Brothers, is one that will probably improve more for me on a second viewing. Maybe then it might turn from being very pleasing, to a great film. But until then, I still can appreciate the work that went into it, and the love letter to the film industry attached to it.
Thanks for reading!