Hail, Caesar! is a wonderful love letter to Old Hollywood
Brendan Wahl | @BrenW23
I love the visuals of old Hollywood. I love the sights and sounds of old mobster-types and everyone wearing suits and some with fedoras. Everyone just sounded better back then, they all spoke with purpose and immediacy and lots of shady things happened behind closed doors. This film is a celebration of that period in time with a large, willing cast and the strong and innovative creative minds of the Coen Brothers at the helm.
The plot is basically a snippet in the life of studio head Eddie Mannix (Brolin) as he deals with a multitude of problems that occur at his job from a kidnapped movie star (Clooney) (which takes up most of the film), an actress (Johansson) who needs to get married quickly with her child on the way so as to not ruin her image of being a moral, upstanding citizen, two twin reporters (Swinton) always trying to get a gossipy scoop from him, and young western star Hobie Doyle (Ehrenreich) being forced into a stuffy drama to the disgust of director Laurence Laurentz (Fiennes). Suffice to say, Mannix’s resolve is tested and he attempts to fix all these problems while also considering a change of occupation to a weapons testing company – Lockheed Martin.
This is a wonderful film. As I basically said above, the movie acts as a love letter to old Hollywood and you can really feel that the Coens have a huge appreciation for that era. First of all, the acting is off-the-charts. With such a large cast there are some actors that are a little short-changed like Scarlett Johansson (who still does a great job nonetheless with her accent and old-timey style of acting), Jonah Hill (who shines in his one scene), and Channing Tatum (who plays a fairly important role and is also quite entertaining – the man sure can sing and dance!) but that is to be expected with a cast this large and a runtime that is barely over 100 minutes. The Coens also have a knack of making these small roles seem important no matter how limited their screen time. It is in their brilliant writing that this occurs.
The ones who really stick out are as follows: Josh Brolin is a commanding lead actor and is basically our guide throughout the story. We need a strong actor for this role and Brolin delivers in spades and then some. He is unyielding but yet he is also sympathetic enough for us to identify with and we really feel his stress of the everyday grind that he must go through on a regular basis. Clooney is a hoot as the dim-witted actor and he doesn’t play it like you would expect. He is not arrogant but rather just a very dense man who believes everything that is said to him and often forgets lines but yet still has the aura and respect that being a movie star affords one’s self. Ralph Fiennes is at his snarky best as a frustrated director. His hidden disgust is hilarious to watch and he is a great victim of slow burn. Tilda Swinton is pretty funny whenever she shows up as either twin (and it gets a great initial laugh when she appears as her own sister). However, I have to give top honours to Alden Ehrenreich, who plays a loveable and charming young actor named Hobie Doyle. In the scenes where Hobie is attempting to act outside of his comfort zone, Alden knocks it out of the park with a combination of optimism, effort, and timid behaviour. He is unlike any of the other actors or even executives as he is a non-selfish wide-eyed young man who just so happens to be famous for doing silly westerns. Alden is a real find for the role and I hope he does more films for the Coens in the future.
Let’s talk about the writing, which is also very strong. The dialogue is a lot of fun with the best examples I can think of being twofold: there is a scene in which Mannix must meet with a numbers of priests and rabbis to see if a film’s interpretation of God is sure to not offend, which turns into a screaming match between them all as they easily get sidetracked. The other example of excellent writing is a scene in which Clooney’s character is confronted by his kidnappers. Without spoiling too much, the kidnappers are not what you’d expect and their reasoning is ridiculous and very funny. Besides those scenes though, the writing throughout the film is also a ton of fun. The film is paced incredibly as well, only taking time to stop in order to show us dazzling, choreographed numbers featuring Scarlett and Channing, respectively. We get side characters and a number of B and C plots but they are all entertaining and I never feel like they detract from the main story or the overall film.
I may be overrating this but I don’t care because I had a hell of a time with the film, it was an awesome callback to a lost era and the Coens can do no wrong in my eyes.