Hail, Caesar! Review: A Lively Old Hollywood Sendup

Photo Credit:http://www.ew.com/article/2016/01/29/josh-brolin-george-clooney-hail-caesar-clip

In some ways, Hail, Caesar! is an incoherent mess. In other ways, it’s an intricate meditation on economic philosophy. But at its most delightful, it’s two seasoned filmmakers digging deep into 1950s cinematic history and lovingly recreating it in many of its various forms with their unique sense of humor. To say the least, Hail, Caesar! is a very silly but very fascinating little picture. As if we expected anything less from the Coen brothers.

The title comes from the fictional big Hollywood epic being made that connects all the loose ends of the film. That film’s plot strives to connect the lives of Julius Caesar and Jesus Christ, making it a Ben-Hur parody of sorts that you never knew you needed. But with the famous but impressionable Baird Whitlock (George Clooney hammin’ it up) as the star, the studio has placed Hollywood “fixer” Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) to ensure the press (represented here by two twin sister rival gossip columnists, both played by Tilda Swinton) doesn’t get a hold of any scandals. But Baird is soon kidnapped by two extras and brought to a Malibu estate where a group of Communist screenwriters try to make him see the light in their ways, while also putting up his ransom.

It’s an insane plot for an insane movie, but the Coen brothers use the same narrative tricks that made The Big LebowskiBurn After Reading, and A Serious Man work. There’s a playful randomness to it all that never dares to wipe the smile off your face. This appears to be the Coen brothers at their most silly and fun. Here, they get to explore Marxist ideologies and smash them together with the general attitude of 1950s America. They get to do it while emulating every genre under the sun from this period, from the noir-style climax to the movie-stealing musical number led by Channing Tatum.

Jamming all this into one package is where the writer/directors stumble. Characters we believe to be important are dropped while others rise to importance almost out of nowhere. There are some shameless cameos shoved in to simply get as many of their old favorites into the movie as possible. It makes it difficult to tell on what the film wants us to focus, similar to the narrative clunkiness of Burn After Reading.

But if you like the Coen brothers (and if you don’t, get out), Hail, Caesar! will quench your thirst in ways their script for Bridge of Spies did not. This is the product we’ve come to expect from these artists, and it’s every bit as funny, poignant, and lovingly crafted as their fans would hope for. It’s not their best work, but for the feel of them just goofin’ around, it’s damn impressive. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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