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‘Hail, Caesar!’ Celebrator Of Film (Movie Review)

hail caesar thumbWhile they are among the most acclaimed modern filmmakers of today, one of the criticisms leveled at Joel and Ethan Coen is how mean they are to their characters. There may be truth in that, but Hail, Caesar! certainly says a lot about their love for the movies. Set in the 1950s, the Golden Age of Hollywood, this film is a mystery-comedy where the mystery hardly matters and a group of loosely-connected characters serve as a tribute to what makes the movies so grand.

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Through much of their career, the Coens have managed to jump back and forth between passion projects that lean on drama and madcap farce, with more mainstream appeal. Of course, I assume every one of their films is a passion project of sorts, especially since Hail, Caesar! combines their passionate love for film with ridiculous antics provided by a very game cast. It is the clear reason why the deliberate choice to have a broken narrative stitched together by great individual scenes resonates so well.

For the sake of discerning some sort of premise, the film involves the work of Hollywood ‘fixer’ Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) to hold a studio together, while dealing with the kidnapping of movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney, in full imbecile mode). Mannix’s duties have him dealing with a variety of people including western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), swimmer/actress DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), tap-dancing actor Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) and Tilda Swinton in a role so hilarious I don’t want to ruin the joke.

Many of the Coen’s comedic efforts are generally steeped in tragedy, which makes ‘Hail, Caesar!’ almost feel strange in the way it presents a high level of optimism towards the significance of cinema. The Coens also mock the whole institution throughout, so it is not completely outside what you’d expect, but it is done with such glee. Even when considering the kidnapping that takes place, the largest amount of drama is really whether or not Mannix will be able to quit smoking.

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Considering the talent involved, it is amazing this film was so cheap to produce ($22 million), but that easily suggests how willing everyone was to work with the Coens. The actors were certainly rewarded, as they all get a chance to shine either foolishly or in a way that highlights a supreme amount of talent and respect for the industry. Just look at Tatum’s key scene, an extended dance number that is both incredibly goofy and an amazingly choreographed sequence.

At the risk of turning this review into a list of great individual scenes, another key moment comes in the form of 2016’s early contender for the year’s funniest scene. Ehrenreich’s Hobie Doyle is told to go from his western gig to a period drama directed by Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) and the results are hysterical. With that in mind, there is a sense of joy that comes from how the Coens are not making Hobie Doyle the fool. Of all the characters we see in this film, Doyle is the only one not driven by money, vanity or some sort of cause. He’s just happy to have a job and he tries his hardest to do what is asked of him.

Not letting the looseness of the film get the better of them on a technical level, the Coens have certainly put their crew to work to make a gorgeous feature. They pushed Roger Deakins to shoot this old school tribute on 35mm, utilized large-scale sets to capture both amazing cinematic homages and one of the most ridiculous third-act developments possible, and had Carter Burwell go big with the score for good measure. For a film that features a lot of great talent under the guise of ‘actors mugging for the camera’, it is very purposeful in its choices and shows how dedicated the film is to being imperfect.

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It is a strange concept, but completely fitting and almost surreal. Hail, Caesar! is like watching what everyone else was doing while Barton Fink was going on and achieved with manic pacing. The various homages threaten to sink the film, given how they are highlights in an awkwardly paced feature, but so much happens in such a short amount of time (I haven’t even mentioned the religious implications), that you will be thrilled to look back on this film and remember the little touches that occurred in between the showstopping highlights. This is a zany triumph that is deceptively light and refreshingly caring in regards to what makes the movies great.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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