Review: Hail, Caesar! (2016)


Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen

Starring: George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Alden Ehrenreich

Release Date: 17th February 2016 (UK)

“Hail, Caesar! We who are about to die salute you.” A phrase attributed to gladiators facing battle in the Coliseum in Rome. Likely, they were proclaiming that the presence of their Emperor during their fight or death meant an act of solidarity for them. The name of this film is, Hail, Caesar!

This film’s opening shot is with more of a Hail Mary, as Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), is in the midst of confessing to a priest. A simple confession as his worst sin is lying to his wife about stopping cigarette smoking. Eddie sets the tone for his role as a highly moral and stable figure amongst a cast of characters who face vices and lapses in judgment. Eddie would seem a do-gooder, but it’s actually his job at Capitol Pictures to smooth out the messes that their movie studio of actors seem to find themselves in. And in an early scene he has a meeting with four clergymen who represent disparate religious views. He seeks their advice on how to make sure the studio’s latest Christ-based film production doesn’t offend anyone of any faith.

Hail, Caesar! is a fictional account of Hollywood in the 1950s, but it is based on some truths during that time. Wholesome and scandal-free reputations were coveted things in those days for all the studio cast members. So when something like Communism swept through in the 50s, it caused quite a stir.

In this case, the studio’s top actor Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) gets abducted and then easily inducted into becoming a member of the Communist party. Baird is eventually rescued by an all-American cowboy and fellow actor, Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich). When Baird, still fully indoctrinated, confronts Eddie with his new beliefs, he is quickly slapped (several times by Eddie) back to his senses.

But this is a Coen brothers’ film, so you might ask, “Where’s the fun part?” Well, Channing Tatum has a goofy but highly skilled dance sequence (think Gene Kelly but with a twist). Scarlett Johansson is a mermaid in a Busby Berkeley inspired water sequence (think Esther Williams but less virtuous). Both of these sequences are standouts in the film. Channing Tatum can dance!! And the production value of the water sequence is reminiscent of the detailed quality of Hollywood in the 50s.

The film has a lot of characters with overlapping stories, and the thread that holds them altogether is Josh Brolin’s Eddie Mannix. His character is totally believable as an upright man who is bent on doing good. Since that is not an easy task, he turns to prayer and visits to the church confessional often.

George Clooney has a lesser presence in the film, but has a totally compelling monologue near the end. Yeah, his character, Baird blows the last line, but he already showed himself to be a little shlocky. There is a tapestry of topics and stories in this film, and a delicate message that urges us to do the right thing.

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