A new Coen brothers film is always a cause for celebration. That’s particularly the case when they adopt more of a screwball tone to their films.
Hail Caesar! is actually more of a group of sketches than a fully fledged film – the plot is slight. We follow the action from the perspective of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), actually a real person who was a “fixer” for MGM. Here he’s the fixer at the fictional Capitol Studios, and is called upon to sort out problems with the various stars Capitol has on contract. These include Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) who has got himself kidnapped from the set of his biblical epic, DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) who’s trying to overcome an out of wedlock pregnancy while shooting her Esther Williams-style swimming picture, Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) who’s trying to break beyond the confines of his singing cowboy persona and Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) who’s making a song and dance naval number!
How the whole story stitches together doesn’t really matter. This film is all about the set pieces. In the cinema where I saw the film, the biggest laughs came from Ehrenreich’s appearances as Hobie. There’s a wonderful scene played with gusto by Ralph Fiennes’ Laurence Laurentz where Hobie is trying to transition to a melodrama but can’t lose his western twang. Later the scene is revisited via a cameo from Frances McDormand who’s editing the picture.
Meanwhile Tilda Swinton plays a twin role as gossip columnists for rival publications in the style of Hedda Hopper, last seen, of course, played by Helen Mirren in Trumbo with the same types of hats, but a very different tone of voice. In fact, the comparisons with Trumbo don’t end there, because the writers who form the group that kidnaps Whitlock, seem to be closely related to the Hollywood Ten. And there was an interesting interview with the Joel and Ethan Coen on Radio 4’s Film Programme last week which suggested that the left-leaning writers of the age really were smuggling in communist propaganda into their work.
While faith becomes a key theme of the film, for the most part the film is more of an excuse to have some fun. And for all the control that studios had when the studio system reigned supreme, the breadth of output must have been remarkable.
This isn’t the best Coen brothers film ever – you feel it could have been structured a little stronger in places. On the other hand, the characters are delightful, and the gentle mocking of the studio productions of the time is wonderful.
Now where can I get the eagle sound effect everytime someone mentions the mysterious events surrounding the movie “On Wings of Eagles”? (Stay until the end of the credits if you enjoy this gag).