In a nutshell, Bored & dangerous says: “The Coen Brothers have taken a lot of the greatest hits of their own work, and combined it for a movie that might be one of their absolute best when it comes to comedy.”
“Next week I won’t be able to fit into my fish ass.”
I’m a massive fan of the Coen Brothers. Well, maybe I’m a faux massive fan, because it took me three or four weeks to finally see their latest, Hail, Caesar! But I’m a big enough fan that I felt guilty about taking so long to see it. And I’m a big enough fan that I felt some sort of vindication when it turned out to be as amazing as it was. Like I deserve points for never once thinking it would be anything less that.
In 50s Hollywood, Eddie Manix (Josh Brolin) is a fixer for Capital Pictures. Whatever problems are happening in the studio, on movie sets, with actors, Eddie is the man to fix it. He’s the kind of guy whose first name basis relationship with a local beat cop can sweep a possible porn bust under the rug, he can fend off rabid gossip reporters (Tilda Swinton as twins Thora and Thessaly Thacker), convincing them that they don’t have a story, and he can placate the many fragile egos of the stars and directors that surround him.
In a single day, Eddie has to deal with a starlet (Scarlett Johansson as DeAnna Moran) who’s fallen pregnant out of wedlock, and a cowboy rope twirler (Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle) who the studio has decided to turn into a prestige picture leading man. And worst of all, he has to deal with the kidnapping of the star of his biggest movie. Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is the lead in ‘Hail, Caesar!: A Tale of the Christ’, the biggest movie of the year for Capital Pictures. But with only a few days left of shooting, he is kidnapped by disgruntled screenwriters who have turned to communism after earning so little for their work over the years.
The trailers made it clear that Hail, Caesar! is Joel and Ethan Coen working in broad comedy mode. But more than that, it’s almost a culmination of a lot of their comedies over the years. There’s the all powerful movie studio of Barton Fink, the rapid fire, beat perfect, rhythmic dialogue of a The Hudsucker Proxy, the call backs and recurring jokes of O Brother! Where Art Thou?, the ever expanding chaos of a Burn After Reading. They’ve taken a lot of the greatest hits of their own work, and combined it for a movie that might be one of their absolute best when it comes to comedy.
Calling back a lot of their regular players, all the familiar faces deliver. Of course George Clooney is brilliant as a clueless, pampered star. In her one and only scene, Francis McDormand gets what might be the biggest laugh in the entire movie. Josh Brolin is at his stony faced, dead serious best amongst all the craziness. And I don’t remember if I’ve ever seen Scarlett Johansson do comedy before, but her work here as a brassy, no bullshit broad shows that she should go for laughs more often.
But the real stand out is someone who’s new to the Coen Brothers’ world, and new to me as an actor as well, Alden Ehrenreich. If there’s a heart to Hail, Caesar!, it’s Hobie Doyle. His innocence, his faith in people, his openness to seeing the good in everyone he meets in the ruthless business of Hollywood… All that, plus he’s just down right hilarious.
This is also one of the best showcases of the technical skill of the brothers Coen. The movies within the movie are all so specific to the era, with their own styles, tones and visual language, and the Coens recreate them all to a tea. There’s the Busby Berkeley water ballet, the gun slinging, trick riding, guitar plucking western, the sword and sandal epic, the upper class parlour piece, the big scale musical… The Coens don’t just emulate these movies, they actually make them.
Hail, Caesar! hasn’t done well at the box office, and I have no idea why. It has a cast full of big names (I haven’t even mentioned Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum yet), and it’s so crowd pleasingly funny. Well, it was pleasing to the crowd I saw it with.
Which gets me to my confusion about its lack of box office, maybe it’s a sleeper hit. Because is saw it several weeks after release, at four o’clock on Good Friday afternoon, and the theatre was packed. In the old days, I would have put that down to nothing else being open on a Good Friday, so people would see anything to elevate their boredom. But I had a cheeky beer at three different pubs on my way to the cinema, so those sorts of places were open, giving everyone in my cinema other options. But they chose well, they saw what I’m sure will be remembered as one of the Coen Brothers best comedies.