Title: Hail, Caesar!
Country: USA, UK, Japan
Genre: Comedy, Mystery
Music: Carter Burwell
Cinematography: Roger Deakins
Clement von Franckenstein
It is dumbfounding that Coen Brothers’ much-anticipated all-star period comedy had been slated to a dumpster February release earlier this year, which received a lukewarm attendance both from audience and critics. HAIL, CAESAR! ostentatiously settles into the less vaunted category of Coen Brothers’ comprehensively well-appreciated oeuvre – a droll comedy sans palpable grittiness, threatening violence or gallows humor, more ebullient in its tenor and visual dimension, a closer cousin of A SERIOUS MAN (2009), O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (2000) and THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998), rather than their award-reaping vehicles such as BARTON FINK (1991), FARGO (1996) and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007),
This time the milieu is in Hollywood’s Golden Age, more specifically, 1951, a glittery insider-story of movie business told from the studio executive and producer Eddie Mannix (Brolin), a real-life character infamous for his “fixer” obligation – to whitewash all kinds of unsavory private lives of Hollywood stars, in order to maintain their public image and not jeopardize the merchandize they are headlining. Yes, most of its star-cast gets their inspiration from real people, sometimes a combo of several, it is all for oldie-savants to trace and locate their references.
The main hurdle for Eddie on that day is something could be made into a big fuss, but plays out in a much unruffled manner, the studio’s biggest star Baird Whitlock (a goofy yet personable Clooney in a suit of Roman armors, plays dumb and ingenuous at full tilt), currently engaged in shooting their heavily-budgeted production, the titular HAIL, CAESAR!, is abducted from the set and therefore, Eddie has to gather the ransom and deliver it, which seems to be a cinch for him, as he casually packs the money into a briefcase and drifts through different sound stages, parries the harassment from the rivaling tabloid columnist twins Thora and Thessaly Thacker (a brash Swinton in her gaudy attire), multi-tasks and mediates various emergencies on the sets.
Meanwhile, we have no trepidation about Baird’s safety, he is kidnapped by a crop of Communist screenwriters, as a means to extort their shortchanged paycheck by churning out scripts for the big-boss studio, an in-joke cues the HUAC scandal in 1947 and with the involvement of a particular Mr. Marcuse, Coen brothers’ sophisticated humor shtick is not at all instantly raucous, but stirs some indelible comic reverberations in after effect, especially when a USSR submarine solemnly emerges in the midnight just to pick up that one specific comrade, it is inwardly sidesplitting, although, the upshot of the ransom has plunged deadly into platitude, no way Coen Brothers would allow that money to fall into the hands of Communists.
An omnipresent smirky levity hovers around the whole movie, the cast is well assigned to their particular sphere of personae, Channing Tatum is still handsome and nimble-footed a decade after his STEP UP (2006) days; Scarlett Johansson is a twice-married prima donna now gets knocked up with a director (Lambert) who will not acknowledge the affair, owns the most gorgeous set piece as a mermaid among a team of dual-colored synchronized swimmers. Josh Brolin stylishly enjoys a field-day of all the hustle and bustle, the only problem of his Eddie is that he confesses too often about his cigarette-snuffing. But, unexpectedly, the biggest asset of this comedy is Alden Ehrenreich, who doesn’t even have his own picture on the poster, he plays Hobie Doyle, a young upstart in the showbiz who wins audience in Western pics for his cowboy antics, and is cast by the producers to star in his first non-Western high-class drama talkie, directed by the acclaimed European director Laurence Laurentz (Fiennes), the segment where he is harangued by Mr. Laurentz to rectify his drawling intonation and hillbilly accent is comedy of the highest caliber, Alden also does an extraordinary job with dexterous élan when he is required, he is definitely the cynosure against a more well-established thespians, a brilliant cast call as the young Han Solo, and HAIL, CAESAR! is his four-square stepping stone into stardom.
Last but not the least, about the legendary DP Roger Deakins, who has blessed this film with an utterly glittery veneer of this line-of-work’s sleekness and glamor, incredulously counterpoints what lies beneath, its wackiness, idealism, hypocrisy, partisanship and depravity, all reflected from self-mocking lens of the two from the in-crowd.