Making movies about making movies is a risky gambit. But directors/writers Joel and Ethan Coen are up to the challenge in Hail, Caesar!, a near-parody of 50s Hollywood complete with Josh Brolin as “fixer” Eddie Mannix.
Mannix is the “Physical Producer” at Capitol Pictures (not Records), and his job is to keep the wheels from squeaking within a morally bored Hollywood studio lot rife with kidea-pings, illegitimate pregnancies, and other scandals that could ruin Capitol’s celebrities and incoming cash flow.
But Hail, Caesar! is not as straightforward at first glance, or even viewing, with its narrative or characters. True, the film covers a 28-hour day within the life of Mannix and his celebrities, but it weaves itself through a remarkably engrossing dance number here, a hilarious artistic drama over there, and then wildly entertaining conversations elsewhere in Malibu among…well, I won’t spoil it.
Further, Caesar is quite literally a divine comedy, in that it provides a light message in what can only be perceived as anti-religion (in the organized sense) and pro-faith. An odd, yet unsurprising choice for the Coens, who have a penchant for relying on straight, middle-America characters to draw audience sympathy. Yet like Big Lebowski, it’s the small details that trump the more subtle ones that will fight to distract you from what the Coens are trying to pull off.
The film will make you feel smart for catching his den references to a literal spaghetti western or the name of a popular communist on a business card. Then you’ll fall to the charm of how it frames its religious ideology, which strikes first as a “Don’t be a Jerk” message until you stop and take the final scene in Hail, Caesar! (the movie within the movie, not the one directed by the Coens) more literally when one word forgotten by the star actor (George Clooney) happens to be faith.
For that and many other reasons, Hail, Caesar! is the first truly great wide release of 2016, in that it provides a thoroughly entertaining narrative just begging to be discoursed, rehashed, and argued among lovers of all films, not just work by the Coen brothers.
I’m going to give Hail, Caesar! an A-
To be fair, I don’t think Hail, Caesar! will sat isn’t all moviegoers (which is not a fault of the movie). Cinephiles will have the most fun with it, and I suspect it will leave a lasting impact on those who have the patience to breathe in the style, the substance, and most definitely the details.
I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni