By Darin Skaggs
It is no secret to any fan of the Coen Brothers work, that they are the type of filmmakers who pack their movies with a multitude of thematic elements, a wide range of characters and a largely, sometimes dark, sense of humor. These elements are presented in films like Fargo which deals with greed, twisted minds and what it is like to be a nice person. There last film Inside Llewyn Davis dealt with grief, art and what it is like to be not such a good person. So it is no surprise that their latest work, Hail, Caesar! Is filled to the brim with its themes like faith, the value of making art, job vs family and a statement on a type of filmmaking that is long gone. It is all that and of course a hilarious, at times zany comedy.
It is the 1950’s and the Hollywood movie business and successful producer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is hard at work hiding celebrity scandals, checking on film’s progress and setting up would be cute celeb couples . He runs into several of his employees like snotty director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), the beautiful star DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), cowboy star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) and Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum), a big musical star with a big secret. Along with those stars and many more he runs into Barid Whitlock (George Clooney), who gets the plot started when he is mysteriously kidnapped by a few extras and is held for a $100,000 ransom. With all that Mannix is dealing with he is also preoccupied with if he should take a job at an airport, which will be less stressful and give him more time with his family.
This movie is so good, so funny, so thought provoking that the only nit picking I could do is say that it is not a surprise how good it is. It is a Coen brother’s film, they have flops like The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty, but most of their movies are near, if not so, masterpieces and with time this would and most likely will reach that status. The humor like I said is top notch, the themes are out of this world and of course like every Coen brother’s film, including those two not as loved pictures, have amazing performances. Josh Brolin, among the already mentioned fantastic actors, is the main character. He plays his silly, yet complicated role of a tough boss, goof ball and incredibly intelligent. He is a man who knows what he is doing, the only struggle he encounters among the chaos is if he should change jobs or not.
He wants to stay to his stressful, time consuming job because he believes in it. He loves the fact that he is helping the art of movies being made. His character can never articulate this fact, but he is a proud man, loving what he does. The film is constantly asking the question, mostly through this airport job dilemma, if creating film is worth putting all your time and effort into. Much like another work by the Coen brothers, Barton Fink, this whole film is the Coen’s searching in their mind and soul if what they are doing is worth anything or is just a delusional waste of time. As I said the Coen brothers put multiple themes into their films. This film explores the Hollywood of the past, specifically the 1950’s. There are moments where the studio sets up Hobie with another movie star, as they control the movie stars dating decisions. Somethings go off the wall when it comes to controlling the stars, which leads to many funny moments including a discussion on how to get an actress to adopt their own baby so she can also keep her innocent image. It even goes into the crazy real life situation of blacklisted screenwriters due to their association with Communism.
I’ve hinted at it a bit, but under all the deep and sometimes emotional themes given to this movie, the humor is not undercut. This is, maybe first and foremost, a comedy. Clooney plays his easily persuaded, goofy Whitlock character so well. Tilda Swinton plays competing twin reporters that get mad if you call them what they are, gossip journalist which brings on a delightful bit of confusion from the other characters and even us at times. For some amazing miracle of a reason Channing Tatum has been seen by today’s most brilliant auteurs and cast to be in their films, the other being Quinten Tarnatino’s The Hateful Eight, as one of the worst and most funny characters in the pictures. The Sailor singing scene is one of the funniest moments in film to come out in a long time. Hail, Caesar! is a masterful work of art by the Coen brothers.