Last night, I attended the press screening for the new Coen Brothers’ film ‘Hail, Caesar!’ which I had high expectations for given Joel & Ethan‘s track records with previous offerings as well as the all-star cast they had assembled. They definitely did not disappoint. The movie takes place in the Golden Age of cinema on the set of MG emmmm….. Capitol Pictures where the studio is putting everything they have into the making of an epic film entitled ‘Hail, Caesar!’ starring the great Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). While shooting a scene, Whitlock is roofied & kidnapped by two extras and held for a $100,000 ransom by a group of individuals with a… shall we say, certain agenda. This becomes the main problem for real-life studio “fixer” Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin) to handle amongst the myriad of other challenges he is already juggling.
The movie struck me as much as a love-letter to 1950’s cinema as it was a parody of all of the various back-stage, behind-the-scenes happenings at a major motion picture company. We saw Scarlett Johansson taking on the “Esther Williams” role as America’s swimming sweetheart who was pregnant but *GASP* not married! There was Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle, the singing cowboy who the studio was anxious to rebrand as a serious leading man much to the frustration and dismay of director extraordinaire Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). Bonuses were present in the way of Channing Tatum channeling his inner “Gene Kelly,” Frances McDormand as a chain smoking film editor, Tilda Swinton playing twin (gossip) columnists as well as a host of fantastic cameos by other Hollywood mainstays such as Christopher Lambert, Wayne Knight, Jonah Hill, Fisher Stevens, Clancy Brown and Robert Picardo. Throw in a narration by Michael Gambon and what isn’t there to love?
There were some nuances to the film that seemed a little vague while others were clearly just there to showcase some of the daily problems that Eddie Mannix had to “fix” as part of his job. However, as with other Coen Bros comedies, the movie delivers plenty of fantastic laughs with no one actor overshadowing any other member of the ensemble. From Brolin’s meeting with different religious heads in an attempt to make sure their new big-budget project doesn’t offend anyone to Tatum’s grand musical dance number to Fiennes directing challenges with Ehrenreich, the film is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through the backstage (and backstory) of a major tinsel town studio. It simultaneously offers the perfect window through which to look back at the Hollywood of yesteryear while (hilariously) showing the glow that people like Mannix worked hard to maintain yet also (again, hilariously) showing the tarnished side that existed behind the facade. Overall, I’d say this is the first “must-see” movie of 2016.