I went to see the Coen Brothers’ latest film, Hail, Caesar!, this weekend. I’m kind of on the fence when it comes to the Coen Brothers. I like O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Big Lebowski, and Intolerable Cruelty, but I really didn’t understand Fargo, Miller’s Crossing, or The Man Who Wasn’t There (which I think, in film circles, disqualifies me from ever being a real movie critic). So I really wasn’t sure if I was going to like this new movie or not.
I liked it! Mostly.
The film is about Eddie Mannix, a movie studio “handler” in the 1950’s, played by a fabulous Josh Brolin. Mannix’s job is to protect the studio’s stars from themselves and the studio from scandal. As he goes about his action-packed day at Capitol Studios, we are treated to cameo-laden homages/parodies of various 50’s-era films: Scarlett Johansson as an Esther Williams-type synchronized swimmer; Channing Tatum as a Gene Kelly-type song-and-dance man; and George Clooney as a Roman centurion in a sweeping Biblical epic. If you love both classic movies and modern movies like I do, these little scenes are totally worth the price of admission.
The main plot centers around the kidnapping of Clooney’s character. With this plot, I was hoping for an exciting whodunnit (I love mysteries), but you find out relatively quickly who the kidnappers are, and the revelation is a disappointment (it was for me, anyway). I think the situation with the kidnappers is supposed to be funny, but I found it awkward, dry, and waaaaayyyy too long. Even the reveal of the Big Bad at the very end (and what happens to the Big Bad) isn’t very exciting, and it doesn’t really make sense. I found myself wondering if they could have just cut out that part of the plot altogether–which is always an issue when you’re talking about the main plot.
But there were so many funny moments that it almost didn’t matter if the plot made sense. There’s a great scene where Ralph Fiennes, as an elegant, sophisticated director, is trying to teach a Roy Rogers-type singing cowboy how to say his lines correctly in a drawing-room drama. In another, George Clooney’s centurion is reacting to seeing the face of Christ in the Biblical epic, and you can hear the director shouting in the background, “Squint more! But with grandeur!” And the film’s climatic moment is fantastic–but I won’t spoil it for you.
If you’ve never seen any movies from the 1950’s (Ben Hur, On The Town, Trigger, Jr), you probably won’t like this. And if you’ve never seen a Coen Brothers movie before, I don’t know that this should be your first one (I’m not sure which one SHOULD be your first one; I think mine was Raising Arizona, which was pretty good, but opinions are as varied as the Coens’ movies themselves).
But if you like classic movies and you like “lighter” Coen Brothers movies, give Hail, Caesar! a try.