Hail, Caesar! (2016) Movie Review: The Coens Craft Another Cinematic Playground

Drinking Game

Take a Drink: for every callback to classic cinema.

Do a Shot: for every cameo you recognize.

Do a Shot: for each religious allegory.

Toast Your Drink: FOR CHANNING TATUM

Community Review

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1 Beer! A Toast! Great Movie!2 Beers! Good Movie!3 Beers! Okay Movie!4 Beers! Mediocre Movie!5 Beers! Awful Movie!6-Pack! Bad movie! Do not be Sober!

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Movie Review

By: Hawk Ripjaw (A Toast) –

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is having a bad day. As a studio fixer, it’s his job to mop up problems with productions and stars around the Capitol Pictures’ soundstages. He’s already a victim of classic Catholic guilt, on top of trying to quit smoking and hide his habit from the wife he never sees. He also is trying to mask and somehow solve the pregnancy of unmarried star DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johannson), successfully facilitate the studio-driven evolving career of Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), stave off the hungry twin gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton), and on top of it all, must somehow recover kidnapped star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), whose abduction at the hands of a group known only as “The Future” may spell doom for the studio’s most expensive picture of the year, Hail, Caesar! A Story of the Christ.

Channing Tatum also appears.

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A Toast

The trailers for Hail, Caesar! advertise a slapstick comedy about show business. That’s not quite accurate. Nor is it a straightforward, mainstream story involving a kidnapping. It’s really more of a snapshot of one chaotic day in the life of a flawed character that, in true Coen fashion, doesn’t always go where you expect it to go. Certain larger elements of the film are inconsequential by the end, while seemingly smaller threads end up unraveling completely.

It’s incredibly satisfying to see the Coens handle the comedy here. One of the best gags seems to be a play on the not-infrequent instance of genre actors attempting to transition to a different type of film, involving not only an actor out of his element, but a hilarious bout of pseudo-wordplay that doesn’t get its true punchline until almost half an hour later. It’s just one in a number of recognizably goofy scenarios: there’s a certain flavor to the comedy in Coen films, and as always, it manages to be innocently goofy as well as bitingly relevant.

Moreover, it balances its moments of Coen weirdness with a surprising amount of thoughtfulness and religious subtext. It’s all wrapped up in layers of references and callbacks to 50’s cinema with characters named after actors and characters and a couple of scenes that directly reference those old films, particularly a show-stopping Gene Kelly-style dance number led by Channing Tatum. Shot on 35mm film by longtime Coen collaborator Roger Deakins, with costume design by Mary Zophres, this display of 50’s era filmmaking is wonderfully recreated.

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Verdict

The Coen brothers exude confidence in a way that lets almost everything they do be incredibly unique. They have such a firm grasp of what they do at this point; while they can put together something as weirdly complex as this and make it work, in the hands of another it would come across as meandering. Hail, Caesar! is already the brothers’ biggest box office failure since Intolerable Cruelty and has been met with mixed reviews. The difference between them is that Intolerable Cruelty was goofy, inoffensive, and safe. Hail, Caesar! is daringly devoid of conventional cinematic structure, and in doing so just looks like a slice of a larger world instead of a self-contained story. This could very well be a cult hit down the road. I hope it is, as the Coens and their cast clearly had fun making this. I, and the rest of my auditorium, loved it.

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