I thoroughly enjoyed Hail, Caesar!
I have not laughed so hard at a movie in a very long time. The talent, the writing, the banter, the pacing, the tropes being mocked… Hail, Caesar! is a Cohens Brothers movie in fine form.
The story follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a 1950’s Hollywood studio manager, who is constantly putting out metaphorical fires, keeping the talent in line, and the press at bay. His secretary, Natalie (Heather Goldenhersh), is a vital piece of his world, keeping the chaos coming in manageable packages and appointments. Their chemistry helps the story click along at an intense pace.
Eddie weaves in and out of the stories of several studio stars, directors, and press, played by George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, and Alden Ehrenreich. This movie is packed with talent.
I want to point out that they let Scarlett Johannson act. It’s wonderful. Such a rare thing these days. She has this ridiculous part as a 50’s starlet, and she’s hilarious.
Hail, Caesar! is full of references to classic big production films like Million Dollar Mermaid, Ben-Hur, Spartacus, Quo Vadis, and Anchors Aweigh. I had the advantage of seeing the Alamo Drafthouse pre-show for Hail, Caeaser, which was very thorough in providing just the right clips from those classics to make sure everyone got the jokes. I found it all delightfully clever.
Hail, Caesar! is very much a period piece about 1950’s Hollywood. The costumes, the technology, the cars, even the accents and slang build up a wonderfully rich backdrop. And then it uses that backdrop to parody all those classic movies mentioned above. Just wait until the not-Anchors Away gag, you’ll see what I mean.
It’s also not a perfect movie. There’s a lot going on, and you’re kind of rushed from the story of one character to another. It’s not quite an anthology, more a snap shot of a ‘typical’ 24 hours in the crazy other world of 1950’s studio life. Not everything is wrapped up at the end, but Eddie’s had a full arc that ends satisfactorily.
I had one big moment while watching the film where the logic of the story fell apart for me, but the thing they were doing was so fantastically over the top that it didn’t really bother me. I was laughing too hard to get annoyed. That’s saying a lot, as story logic collapses usually ruin movies for me. But hey, they managed to pull off a Communist gag, so I’m going to give the Cohen brothers some slack there.
This is a smart, fast paced film. You need to pay attention to really appreciate it and take in the humor. It’s full of weird little jokes for film industry nerds. The sets and costumes are beautiful. The actors are obviously enjoying themselves in the banter and chemistry. You may not get the Communist jokes, but that’s ok. George Clooney hams it up in those scenes, you can just enjoy him being ridiculous.
Hail, Caesar! is a film I recommend, to Cohen brothers fans, to film nerds, to people who enjoy smart dialogue and humor. It’s in theaters now.