Opening 18 Feb 2016
Written-directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, their latest comedy pays homage to 1950s Hollywood when studios ruled. Eddie “fixer” Mannix (Brolin) runs Capitol Pictures for Mr. Skank in New York. A typical day starts at 5:00 rescuing young property from disgrace to checking dailies to plopping a cowboy (Ehrenreich) into a tuxedo and then calming the fuming director (Fiennes), to legitimizing an issue for a hot-to-trot starlet (Scarlett Johansson) to hunting down an absent actor (Clooney). Interruptions include holding off columnists – two feuding sisters delightfully played by Tilda Swinton – threats of publishing salacious stories, and almost daily confessional visits. No wonder his promise to his patient wife hangs in balance.
The movie sets Eddie visits squelching problems are tributes to film genres: dramatic (Grand Hotel 1932, Mr. Skeffington 1944), aquatic (Esther Williams: Bathing Beauty 1944, Dangerous When Wet 1953), musicals (Holiday Inn 1942, Singin' in the Rain 1952 – move over Gene and Donald – Channing’s a mean tap-dancer), Westerns (The Great Train Robbery 1903, High Noon 1952), and epics (King of Kings 1927, Quo Vadis 1951).
Tongue-in-cheek lines and potshots at politics, unfair economic compensation, science, history, and religion abound in the Coens’s screenplay. Brolin delivers a strong subtle performance; Clooney and Johansson’s are more perfunctory than funny. In a diving scene, Johansson – looking scared – misses the comedic mark; when the joke finally washes up it ain’t funny. Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill, Veronica Osorio, et al deliver resounding cameos. Roger Deakins – shooting on celluloid at the brothers’ request – and Carter Burwell’s music is cohesive. The Coen brothers (as Roderick Jaynes) cut the multi-faceted story well. Kudos to the departments – Production Design, Art Direction, Set Decoration, and Costume Design and makeup – for capturing the 1950s. Lacking the merit of past Coen brothers’ comedies, Hail, Caesar! is still a fun glimpse of the good ol’ days of Hollywood. (Marinell Haegelin)