Joel and Ethan Coen invite you back into their strange world of cinema with Hail, Caesar!, a true love letter to the art form. If you’re looking for the twisted humor of Fargo, the grim existentialism of No Country For Old Men, or the bizarre vulgarity of The Big Lebowski, keep moving right along. Hail, Caesar! is by far the goofiest movie the Coens have produced. Sure, it lacks the weight and profundity of some of their other works, but that’s certainly not a bad thing. If you want to laugh, be wildly entertained, and wander around with some seriously madcap characters, you’ve come to the right place.
Welcome to the Golden Age of Hollywood, and meet Eddie Mannix, a fixer for Capitol Pictures who solves any problems for the bigwigs and celebrities in the biz. Not a day goes by where he doesn’t pay a visit to the confessional booth, and the job is starting to wear on him. But the job doesn’t care about his personal life–a starlet needs a husband, a stuffy director wants his lead actor kicked off the set, and the biggest star in Los Angeles has been kidnapped. Thus sets off the busiest day of Mannix’s career.
While Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton are featured in the top-billed cast list, they are really glorified cameos. That’s not to say these actors aren’t good in their roles–on the contrary, this is a brilliant comedic ensemble. But don’t be surprised when the lovely Scarlett disappears after four minutes of screentime.
No, this movie belongs to Josh Brolin as the tough-guy Mannix, George Clooney’s arrogant doofus Baird Whitlock, and Alden Ehrenreich’s lovable cowboy superstar Hobie Doyle. Brolin is the movie’s straight man, reacting to the bizarre situations with a sigh or a shake of the head–all impeccable comedic timing. Clooney has proven himself to be the Coens’ court jester in O Brother and Burn After Reading, and his moronic movie star in Hail, Caesar! more than lives up to his reputation.
The real break-out star is Ehrenreich, whose smiling simpleton acts as the heart of the whole strange affair. Every moment he is onscreen is golden, whether he is telling jokes, doing stunts, or simply listening to other characters. He and Ralph Fiennes engage in a genius scene that would give Abbott and Costello a run for their money. When awards season circles back around, I will ardently campaign for Ehrenreich in the supporting category.
Another huge surprise here is Channing Tatum. The man is talented. I’ve been a big fan of his for a while, and his work in both 21 Jump Street and Foxcatcher show he’s the real deal, but his turn in Hail, Caesar! was astounding. Despite his limited screentime, he left a huge impression. His dancing mixes comedy, athleticism, and charm in a way that hasn’t been seen since Gene Kelly. I’m serious. He can croon and make you crack up with just a glance. Wow.
The 1950s setting is a character all itself, hilarious and engaging in its own right. Not to mention Roger Deakin’s superb cinematography, which is lively and fascinating to watch. The Coens’ screenplay manages to be full of high-brow, subtle humor as well as slapstick, and I’m sure a second viewing of the film would yield a host of new jokes. I can say with a good deal of confidence that this will be the only major Hollywood release this year to include a hilarious theological discussion on the doctrine of the Trinity between a rabbi, a priest, and a pastor.
The Coens’ love and respect for movies is evident in every frame of Hail, Caesar! The acclaimed filmmakers have found an enchanting way to poke a bit of harmless fun at the superficiality of Hollywood while simultaneously making it feel like a loving pat on the back. Zany, screwy, and lightweight in a good way, Hail, Caesar! is a joyous, innocent way to spend two hours.