Written By Jacob Chimilar (@sweetlows)
Like a nice ending where the story is concluded or at least the journey was worth it, and sometimes I don't get that from A Coen Brothers film. You come in on a particularly peculiar time in someone's life and then you leave them, that's their game. I think Burn After Reading was a good example of that message. At the end of the movie a couple of FBI agents discuss the conclusion to the case they were working on regarding stolen FBI data. “What did we learn Palmer?” “I dunno sir” “ I don't know either. But I guess we learned to never do it again. That is if we figure out whatever it was we did.” I think in a nutshell is the Coen Brothers. They make movies with whacky circumstances that add up to a whole lot of nothing and the world keeps on spinning until the next whacky happenstance. Hail, Caesar! Overall adheres to that notion.
The set up is that Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is manager or “fixer” of Capitol Pictures some time in the 1950's. His job was to keep everyone who worked for Capitol happy and stop any sort of rumours of gossip that gets spread whether the rumours are true or false regarding their actors, directors and make it seem that everyone working at Capitol is doing their best to bring quality wholesome entertainment to the common man by way of equal quality and wholesome people under their employ. Enter Hail,Caesar! An attempt at a big budget, star studded, Biblical epic that has been one of the various “sure things” Hollywood likes to churn out every few years. They of course say this one is different because they are going to do it right with the scale and budget a biblical story deserves as well as doing their best not to offend any of the faiths that would seek to scrutinize the depiction of the tale they are choosing to tell. Unfortunately the headline star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) has been kidnapped and now the big budget epic is jeopardy of being an extravagance that even generous box office returns can't save.
This movie is one that sets out to both revel in the good old days of Hollywood and poke fun at it and, by extension, Hollywood today. In the back lots of Capitol we get to see musicals, westerns, dramas, “aquatic” pictures (a term I didn't know existed until now) all presented as the laughably cookie cutter movies they can often be when studios are making them. In fact the only movie that you really see the director have any kind of say is in the drama and even then the studio has meddled with it in a way by sending the a dim witted “cowboy western” actor for the job.
This is the Coen Brothers at their most vicious. It's a big thumbing of the nose at the likes of Paramount and Universal and any other big studio that likes to put their fingers in other people's pies and scoop out that mango passionfruit and put in good ol' fashioned apple in it's place. It's a film that I believe totally works. We see Mannix dealing with gossip columnists and other “fixers” trying to keep real gossip from spreading. The likes of Scarlett Johansson's character having a child but not currently having a husband, creating an elaborate scheme to have her give the child to someone who works for Capitol and “adopting” it back as to seem as though she was never pregnant but simply wanted a child as a single mother. It's that kind of messed up, we must keep with traditional values, that the Coens showcase throughout the film and the ludicrous nature of it all.
It really is a nicely crafted, funny and zany film with some really gorgeous cinematography as always from Roger Deakins. I know Leo is the current poster boy for “Man without Oscar” as were people like Hitchcock before him. But Deakins deserves the lifetime achievement award at this point. He was one of the first, if not the first to do digital intermediate colour grading on another film of the Coens “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and has continued to make beautiful work throughout his career.
The performances are all pitch perfect. I'm happy to see Ralph Fiennes getting more comedy roles playing the Thespian director. Channing Tatum as the smiling, singing dancing sailor was a treat and Clooney playing the big time “old hollywood” star that he more or less is. It feels slightly meta having him in the role in the film-within-a-film because if it were done today and he were the type to do those movies he would probably be at the top of the list to star in a biblical epic. Tilda Swinton plays a pair of twins who are both writers and does an excellent job showing contempt for the other's writing. Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix really ties the whole thing together. His story revolves around working long hours and being tossed into crazy yet “industry norm” scenarios while at the same time being offered an “out” to work as the manager for an aircraft company, a nice respectable 9 to 5 job that will have him guaranteed to retire in luxury after 10 years. It's the kind of decision that people wanting to work for the thing they are passionate about has to really contend with, do I do the thing that is time intensive, all consuming yet rewarding or the easy 8 hour shift work at a place you couldn't care less about keeping your head down and live a respectable life. An easy choice for the young and able but not so much for someone like Mannix looking to settle down and retire with his family.
If you like movies but also enjoy seeing the drama behind the scenes and not having it sugar coated or treated as a noble tough profession you'll love this film. Usually organizations like The Academy and Hollywood Foreign Press are all over movies about movies but this is very much an anti-establishment film so I can see why they would hesitate to shower it's praise upon it. Which is exactly the point the film is making. Good on you, Coens.