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article imageReview: ‘Hail, Caesar!’ is a revolving door of problems needing solving Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Feb 5, 2016 in Entertainment
The Coen brothers’ latest picture, ‘Hail, Caesar!’, is a silly tribute to traditional Hollywood starring all the usual suspects with a few fresh additions.
For those who have more than a passing interest in film and its history, the studio system is an endless source of fascination. This long-lost age of Hollywood worked within many restraints, but it also generated some of the biggest, most impressive and critically acclaimed productions of the last 100 years, as well as the first true movie stars. The studio heads oversaw everything from the progress of each film being made to the public images of their top-performing talent. The Coen brothersHail, Caesar! finds the humour in these relationships, while also paying tribute to an era gone by.
Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) runs everything related to Capitol Pictures. He personally reviews the dailies, troubleshoots the talent’s private lives and ensures every production is running as smoothly as possible. However, on the eve of a very important personal decision, he is bombarded with a number of work-related problems that need solving. At the top of the list is missing leading man, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), who may have been kidnapped by a group of radicals. Next is the private and professional life of Western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), who needs a date for his premiere and the dedication to transition to drama under the guidance of director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). Then there’s DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), whose reputation as an innocent beauty must be preserved by any means necessary. And in between managing these fires and frequently attending confession, Mannix must also deal with the day-to-day that includes wrangling gossip columnists trying to tarnish the reputations of his biggest draws.
Joel and Ethan Coen have created a bizarre and humorous film that both celebrates and mocks Hollywood’s heyday. In less than two hours, the movie encompasses everything that made the era great and absurd. Mannix’s micromanagement has him running all over town and the studio lot, yet he never tires of his job — in fact, the character based on the real MGM fixer of the same name thrives on it. However, each new location also presents its own vignette, somewhat fragmenting the picture as it often contributes a story arc unrelated to the abduction, which is the main plot point.
Amusingly, Hobie’s feature dramatic debut is reminiscent of the scene in Singin’ in the Rain when Lina Lamont tries to transition to talkies and everyone discovers she’s terrible. There are several big productions shooting on the lot simultaneously and each represents one of the time’s key genres: epic historical narrative, period drama/adaptation, Western, musical and anything for the starlet. The latter also applies to public relations, as the studio will do anything to keep a scandal out of the newspaper… and there was no shortage of work in that department.
A scene from  Hail  Caesar!
A scene from 'Hail, Caesar!'
Universal Studios
The movies within the movie are all reminiscent of other films of the time. Hundreds of extras dressed as Roman soldiers march through the desert to create an impressive crane shot. More extras in togas lounge in a pantheon as Baird’s character takes centre stage. Hobie does his own stunts — it’s one of the main reasons he was signed — including a handstand on the back of a horse and some notable rope tricks. DeAnna simply looks exquisite shooting a synchronized swimming sequence in a giant indoor pool as not a hair on her head moves underwater. Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) is the studio’s Gene Kelly (but with looser legs), currently starring as a singing and dancing sailor who leads his crew in a chorus about “dames.” Between the lyrics and choreography, there is more innuendo in this number than one can even track in a single viewing; and it becomes more hysterically provocative as it goes on with the men appearing more interested in each other than the women about whom they’re singing. This is unquestionably one of the highlights of the film, in spite of the stereotypes it’s portraying.
In a contrasting scene, Mannix meets with a group of four religious representatives to obtain approval of the depiction of Jesus in Baird’s latest picture. The brief roundtable consists of the men arguing amongst themselves about the savior’s status and offering some unsolicited notes on the script before finally deciding whether the film will receive their blessing. This is not the first time the Coen brothers have integrated significant religious ideologies or turned the camera back on the industry; however, they haven’t done so with such fervour in a couple of decades.
A scene from  Hail  Caesar!
A scene from 'Hail, Caesar!'
Universal Studios
The most telling sign of the writers/directors’ skills is the calibre of actors with whom they’ve repeatedly worked and the new faces who jump at the opportunity to be in their films. In addition to those already mentioned, the ensemble also includes Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jonah Hill, Christopher Lambert and many more. Brolin never tires of being the straight man with a fixed expression, willing to slap a colleague to get his way. Meanwhile Clooney appears intoxicated most of the time — which is fitting since his character is a notorious alcoholic— yet that doesn’t prevent him from delivering a rousing speech near the picture’s conclusion. And even though long-time collaborator McDormand essentially has just a cameo in the film, she indelibly leaves her mark.
On a whole, a lot of this picture doesn’t make sense as it shallowly jumps between locations and problems; still, in some ways, it also mimics some of the outrageous tales to reach the screen in the same era and the chaos of a newly emerging film industry that had its own rules. It’s far from perfect and not one of the Coen brothers’ best, but it’s still pretty entertaining.
Directors: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney and Alden Ehrenreich
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