This is the Coen Brothers’ latest film, ‘Hail Caeser!’. This is an unorthodox period drama comedy with a political and a serious twist. Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a serious, iron-faced Hollywood studio fixer who cleans up all the messes of the Hollywood elite during the golden age of cinema. Now he faces his biggest obstacle yet. One shouldn’t call it an obstacle really, it’s more of an inconvenience. His next client is Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the clumsy and awkward star of Capitol Pictures’ next picture, the historical drama, Hail Caeser. He’s been abducted during filming and his abductors are a group of people who call themselves ‘The Future’ and have asked for a ransom of $100,000.
Joel & Ethan Coen (Bridge Of Spies, No Country For Old Men) have returned to the hustle and bustle of Hollwood to Baron Fink for this witty, intelligent great well-crafted period comedy with a great cast including Scarlett Johansson as the scandalous Esther Williams. As well as Scar-Jo, we have Ralph Fiennes as an English film director, Laurence Laurentz. He’s the best thing about this movie. He’s a pompous English director in Hollywood who is all about speaking properly and thespianism. I think he is what we’d call a prescriptivist, or in the more common language of today’s younger generation, just simply ‘Grammar Nazi’. Tilda Swinton (The Grand Budapest) plays two irritatingly amusing and thirsty gossip columinsts, Thora and Thessaly Thacker who are constantly sniffing around for their next scoop.
Hail Caeser is by far not the Coen Brothers’ best movie. It’s one of their weaker movies and this is because they always set the bar so I high. Whenever they do anything else, it looks weaker in comparison. This movie is truly excellent, very stylish, great to look at and I really liked the story. The movie is very bright, and its showy aura is a delight. This movie doesn’t feel very Coen at all. Sometimes, it feels quite playful and sparkly and other times it gets a bit darker and serious like Fargo and Burn After Reading.
Josh Brolin (Gangster Squad) stars as Eddie Mannix. Mannix is ‘fixer’ for fictional company, Capitol Pictures and he makes his living by getting rid of incriminating and embarassing problems that can the studio look bad. The media would have a field day on the problems he disposes of. Over the course of two days, he’s required to fix a problem or two, or three. Esther Williams can’t fit into her mermaid costume because she’s got herself too pregnant to fit into her scales and she’s not very eager to marry the dad-to-be. To mother a bastard in her line of work back then would have created public scandal. One can’t afford to have negative press when you’re a Hollywood celebrity. It’s bad for the studio and it’s bad for business.
A pouty young western star called Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is cast at the last minute in a period drama directed by a prescriptivist English director, by the name of Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). Doyle is a pain in the arse to work with for Laurentz. Doyle can’t speak properly and simply cannot act. He’s used to roles that run on very little dialogue and a lot of action sequences. Well, movies where the audience care more about the action than the story. Times really haven’t changed much have they? The southern accent does not suit Laurentz’s period drama but Doyle’s been thrust upon him and there’s nothing he can do about it. Ralph Fiennes killed it as Laurentz in he played the well-spoken, diction-obsessed British stereotype to absolute perfection.I also enjoyed Ehrenreich as Doyle. For an actor to play someone who cannot act takes some serious talent. Among the goings-ons at the studio, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) has been kidnapped. He’s the leader actor in the imminent feature, Hail Caeser: A Story Of Christ. His abductors are calling themselves ‘The Future’. They confine him to a really awesome mansion worthy of Bruce Wayne.
Mannix also finds himself at logger heads with the doubly troubling Thaker twins (Tilda Swinton) who are constantly on his tail for a scoop about any celebrity who has a dirty secret to spill. If this weren’t enough, the twists and turns also include a dancing and singing Channing Tatum as well as as an accountant (Jonah Hill) who is looking into whether Scar-Jo can legally adopt her own child to avoid a scandal. Clooney is kidnapped by communists. This isn’t the first movie I have seen recently with communism in the plot. Bridge Of Spies also written by the Coens and Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston also centres around communism. Whitlock isn’t the brightest spark, and his kidnappers soon become his teachers. He sees that his hard work is all in vain. The studio reap the rewards of his labour and he sees that just like everyone else, he’s stuck under the iron fist of capitalism. He sees the people in power abuse their station and there’s nothing he can do about it.
The communists give Whitlock a red scare and open his eyes to the truth about the instituion and the system that he is a part of. This is Clooney’s fourth film with the Coens and I really enjoyed his performance in it. The performances by Fiennes and and Brolin stand out. Mannix has the Robert DeNiro hard man appeal, and Laurentz embodies the textbook, stereotypical, British, thespian theatre director persona and it’s highly comical. Fiennes has proved time and time again, that he’s not just some noseless sorcerer and it was great to hear another Harry Potter alumni in the form of Michael Gambon with a voiceover throughout the movie. Is this one of the Coens’ best movies? Not even close to the bar. The bar is too high for them to reach it every time. The thing about the Coens, is that it’s normally a hit and miss with their movies but this is a great flick nonetheless. It has moments of epic cringe and general slapstick comedy when Manix slaps Whitlock in the face, much akin to the famous Batman and Robin meme. The cringey humor is laughable cringe, not the sort of cringe that makes you want to gag.
In conclusion, this is a great picture. It’s well-written with some good dialogue and I like general look of the movie. There’s some great acting from the cast. I’m no fan of Channing Tatum but he’s surprised me in this, just as he did in The Hateful Eight. I was able to tolerate him in this movie so I see that as a win for me. It’s about the circus of Hollywood and how everyone wants something for nothing. There aren’t any good samaritans. The scenes with the communists and Whitlock among my favourites from the movie since they dissected the institution we’re integrated in, and put it on display like exhibiting a piece of art at a gallery. They told the hard and honest truths about western ideologies and culture, and I find movies like that interesting to watch but also great dialogue to listen to. It’s why I enjoyed Trumbo so much. Pieces of dialogue like that are uncanny to an Oliver Stone movie. The movie is a little style of substance but isn’t that the arts industry in a nutshell? I really enjoyed the film and I left the movie theatre with a lot more than a “mirthless chuckle.”