A look at the daily life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a Hollywood fixer for Capitol Pictures in the 1950s, who cleans up and solves problems for big names and stars in the industry. But when in the middle of filming the big budget biblical epic, Hail,Caesar!, studio star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) disappears, Mannix has to deal with more than just the fix.
Review by Louise Keller:
A burnt out Hollywood Executive, a kidnapped movie star, a tenacious gossip columnist and a study group with communist tendencies are some of the scrumptious characters in this latest Coen Brothers jewel. It may not be their sparkling best, but the 50s Hollywood studio construct with its insider's view of the movie industry works a treat, while there are enough highlights to make the journey ludicrous and entertaining enough to grab our attention. It's a delectable, refreshing cocktail of noir mystery thriller shaken with a liberal double nip of humour, satire, song and dance.
Ethan and Joel Coen have structured their tale around Josh Brolin's hard-working studio executive Eddie Mannix, who fixes all the problems from misbehaving starlets, exasperated directors, production issues and potential scandals big and small. Brolin is excellent. Of course it helps to have such a wonderful cast to inhabit the characters, with George Clooney delightfully goofy as Baird Whitlock, the popular star of the biggest film of the year, a swords and sandals religious epic named Hail Caesar. The Coen brothers delight in teasing their audience, none better than the scene when Baird is about to drink from the drugged goblet onset before delaying and stalling - much to the angst of the lute-playing extra and his grape-holding accomplice, who are executing his kidnapping. The fact that the action takes place at Capitol Studios is not accidental: capitalism is the issue at the heart of the disgruntled screenwriters.
Scarlett Johansson's synchronised swimming scene (a la Esther Williams) is glorious, mermaid fish-tail and all; Johansson is divine as DeeAnna Moran, a precocious starlet whose Mary Poppins image is at odds with her precocious lifestyle. Alden Ehrenreich has a key role as Hobie Doyle, a cowboy actor heartthrob with horseback acrobatic skills but zero clue about acting or delivering lines. I love the sequence when Ralph Fiennes' restrained director Laurence Laurentz tries patiently to direct the inept Hobie - Fiennes is ultra good. To top it off, there's a kicker: watch carefully for the scene in which Frances McDormand as an eccentric film editor, plays some rushes for Eddie. I mustn't forget Channing Tatum in a Gene Kelly-esque song and dance sequence, dressed as a sailor who tap dances on tables in a show-stopping routine. And the scene-stealing Tilda Swinton as the identical twin gossip and news columnists, whose noses sniff out every potential scandal.
There are plenty of surprises and between the action, we become involved in the endless trials and tribulations of Eddie, who is contemplating his future and regularly visits the confessional. The joke is that his stated 'sins' are incidental, and I enjoyed the scene in which Eddie asks for a Jewish rabbi, a clergyman, a pastor and Catholic Priest to offer their opinions on the depiction of Hail Caesar's religious elements.
It's all a lot of fun and Michael Gambon's narration brings all the elements together succinctly with a juicy delivery. This is a connoisseur piece that can be enjoyed even more in hindsight.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The wry tone, the dry wit and the sometimes not so dry moment (eg synchronised water dancing led by the irritable (and pregnant) DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), serve as flavouring to this Coen brothers movie meal. To begin with, the half serious treatment of the movie within the movie, Hail, Caesar! - The Story of The Christ, is a palate teaser for the main course, where not only is studio star Baird Whitlock kidnapped, but the kidnappers are a cell of unhappy communist writers who want some of the money the studio has made as a kind of Robin Hood tax on capitalism.
Here, the various side dishes that accompany the meat of the matter include a meeting in which the communists regale the hapless Baird with the evils of capitalism. Being a vanilla sort of guy, easily manipulated, Baird later relates the revelations as newfound economic wisdom to Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). This element would be subversive if the communists had succeeded to take over America.
The extravagant water sequence is as joyously produced as the old fashioned, high energy song and dance routine starring Channing Tatum as studio star Burt Gurney, who later delivers quite a surprise.
The semi-serious tone allows for larger than life subplots, notably one in which young cowboy 'actor' Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is thrust into a dramatic romantic role in which he actually has lines ... to deliver to people, not horses. Ehrenreich's Hobie, who is not as stoopid as he is made to look most of the time, has more screen time than most of the big names in the cast (except Brolin and Clooney). Even Tilda Swinton, in a twin role as two estranged sister columnists, has less screen time, although she makes the very most of the time she does have.
There is both love and parody here, and the Coens avoid the traps of self indulgent satire by ensuring that Brolin's Mannix (named after the real Eddie Mannix of 30 years or so earlier) - notwithstanding his addiction to church and confession - is not played for laughs. His job is valuable and his power considerable, but the way he sees it, it is a compact with himself as much as with the never-seen studio boss.
Ralph Fiennes gets a juicy job as a director on whom is thrust young Hobie, Jonah Hill gets a super serious one-scene cameo, as does Frances McDormand as the film editor. Veronica Osorio is terrific as Carlotta Valdez the Latin star, and Heather Goldenhersh plays an important role as Eddie's efficient secretary, Natalie.
Hail, Caesar! spends a considerable time on Christianity as well as communism, without losing its focus on Hollywood of the 50s - but with nuance. It is a richly textured, meal, where we guests are never quite sure what surprise is coming next. There is no label for this film.
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HAIL, CAESAR! (PG)
CAST: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Veronica Orsorio
NARRATION: Michael Gambon
PRODUCER: Tim Bevan, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Eric Fellner
DIRECTOR: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
SCRIPT: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roger Deakins
EDITOR: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
MUSIC: Carter Burwell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jess Gonchor
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 25, 2016