Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews
Hail, Caesar! | Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton | Review
- Category: Judy Thorburn
- Published on 05 February 2016
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In their latest film, Academy award winning writer/directors, the Coen Brothers (Joel and Ethan Coen) pay homage as well as present a loving spoof of a bygone era known as the Golden Age of Hollywood, with behind the scenes studio machinations and characters modeled after real life tinseltown icons of yesteryear. The filmmaking siblings do a great job of recreating a time period, when big, lavish musicals, biblical sagas, hokey westerns, and fake images in an industry based on pretense and make believe, ruled the big screen. Throw in a jab at religion, the Red Scare (aka Communism) and capitalism and that's a lot to cover. Yet, the talented Coen Brothers manage to deliver a smart balance in one entertaining, well paced film containing witty dialogue, rib tickling moments, and a couple of beautifully executed musical sequences.
Featuring a star studded cast led by Josh Brolin, 'Hail, Caesar!' is set in the 1950's and follows the life Eddie Mannix (Brolin) a studio executive, known as a “fixer” at the fictional Capitol Pictures, who is up to his eyeballs fixing problems to ensure things run smoothly involving the latest movie projects and its stars. Mannix is stressed out by his job, can't seem to quit smoking, has little time for his wife, and makes regular visits to Church to confess his sins. So when he is offered a cushy, less demanding, lucrative position with an aviation corporation, Mannix must face a decision that could change his life, which means leaving behind the business he loves, in spite of the troublesome issues he is forced to tackle on a daily basis.
It is not enough that Mannix saw fit to gather together clergy from various religions, including a priest and a rabbi, to make sure his studio's upcoming biblical epic/story of Christ, 'Hail, Caesar!' doesn't offend anyone. Now, Mannix is faced with a problem that involves the film's lead actor, the studio's biggest star, Braid Whitlock (George Clooney). While working on completing his role as a Roman soldier, Whitlock is drugged and kidnapped by a group of intellectual American communists/would be revolutionaries (among them played by Fred Melamed, David Krumholtz, Patrick Fischler and Fisher Stevens) that call themselves 'The Future' and are asking a $100,000 ransom for his return.
On another project, a Busby Berkeley-style water ballet, the lead, an unmarried Esther Williams-like starlet, DeeAnna Moran (a Brooklyn accented, Scarlett Johansson), announces that she is pregnant and to keep her clean, virginal image in tact, Mannix is burdened with making sure the news doesn't leak to the press. In particular, eager to grab some dirt for their millions of readers, are rival twin gossip columnists, Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both played by Tilda Swinton) who already threaten to expose a secret about the studio's major star.
Meanwhile, although cowboy star Hobie Doyle (an impressive, breakout performance by newcomer Alden Ehrenreich), is excellent in Westerns that rely on his expertise of riding a horse, performing stunts, doing tricks with a lasso, and getting by with little dialogue, problems arise when the powers that be attempt to transform him into a suave, tuxedoed, leading man for a romantic flick. The film's accomplished director, Lawrence Laurenz (Ralph Fiennes) is unable to get the southern twanged, country bumpkin to convey acting skills or correctly say “Would that it t’were so simple”. Both Fiennes and Ehrenreich manage to keep a straight face in this very funny scene that has the director repeating the same line over and over again to make his actor get it right.
On yet another set, a musical is in the works starring song and dance man Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum, recalling the late, great hoofer Gene Kelly) who also has strong ties with that shady group, The Future. Tatum has a scene stealing, standout performance as a sailor in the film's most engaging sequence, a show stopping number set in a bar, that has him doing a fabulous tap dance from one table top to another.
In smaller, cameo roles, Jonah Hill appears as Joseph Silverman, a man recruited for a clever a scheme that would allow the mother-to-be aquatic star to adopt her own baby, and Frances McDormand (who is married to Joel Coen) plays C.C. Calhoun, a wacky, cigarette smoking film editor who nearly strangles herself when her scarf gets entangled in her editing machine.
If you love movies as much as I do, and are a big fan of those grand old Hollywood flicks, 'Hail, Caesar!' offers plenty enjoyable elements thanks to the Coen Brothers at the helm and their terrific cast. As the ancient Romans would do when casting their vote for nay or yay, I give this film a deserving thumbs up.