Brolin and Clooney Reteam with the Coen Brothers For “Hail, Caesar!”

By Scott Kurland

Film: Hail, Caesar!
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Ralph Fiennes, and Channing Tatum
Rated PG-13
Directors: Ethan and Joel Coen

I love the Coen Brothers. I absolutely worship at the alter on which they sit. Never has a directing duo reinvented themselves in so many different ways over the years. They’ve done comedy with “Raising Arizona”, “O Brother, Where Art Thou”, and “The Big Lebowski”. Joel and Ethan have also made serious award winning Dramas like “A Serious Man” and “No Country For Old Men”. Whatever the genre or style, the Coens know how to capture it correctly, even if the film is less than stellar….such is the case for ”Intolerable Cruelty”. This week’s film is indeed a Coen Brothers film called “Hail, Caesar!” Lets see if the brothers have lost their touch shall we?

“Hail, Caesar!” is about the lives of Actors, Directors, and Studio Executives at Capitol Pictures in 1951. Our main focus is on Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), an exhausted “studio fixer” who must keep all the studio’s dirty laundry out the newspaper. Coincidentally, a gossip columnist (Tilda Swinton) is trying to dig up the studio’s past. Eddie is caught in a pickle trying to cover up the turmoil of DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johnasson), reinventing one of the Studio’s leading western actors Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) into a leading man and, worst of all, his best actor Baird Whitlock  (George Clooney) is kidnapped. As Eddie’s day unfolds, we see the ins-and-outs of the moving clock that is a Hollywood studio.

Let me start out by saying that this is the Coen’s best film. It’s not going to win awards, and by no means is it a serious hard-hitting drama. This is a lighthearted homage to the films of Howard Hawkes, Preston Sturges, and Busby Berkeley. The Coens take a great time period for cinema and the peel the onion, layer by layer . We get great musical numbers as a tribute to Gene Kelly and even a synchronized swimming dance routine right out of Busby Berkeley. All of the little details Joel and Ethan put into these scenes are phenomenal. They didn’t need these scenes and they certainly don’t add to the plot, but they are entertaining nonetheless. The Coens always add a bit of seriousness to their films or a bit of humor, but this film is all about the humor. Let me clarify when I say humor, I don’t mean laughter or one liners. This is just a lighthearted tongue-and-cheek film. There’s hints of noir, yes, but this is a film about filmmaking by the two leading authorities on the subject.

I will say “Hail, Caesar!” is very misleading, and I feel this is another example of poor marketing. “Hail, Caesar!” is marketed as a film about the kidnapping of a Hollywood icon. However, the film is really about the life of a studio fixer who lives and breathes his job. This film is one of Josh Brolin’s greatest roles. He’s brash, clever, and strong. He’s also the smartest one in the room, whether the audience knows this fact or not. Brolin carries this film, but he does have a great supporting cast to work off of.  

What I must say about Brolin’s Mannix is he’s smart; perhaps a little too smart, which made me remember the formula of any good Coen brothers film. The Coens always have a strong lead who doesn’t know everything, but can evolve. This is where we get characters like “The Dude”, Barton Fink,  and Marge Gunderson.  Then they add a second character who thinks they’re smarter than the rest, but actually, they’re almost clueless. These are characters like Walter Sobchak, Carl Showalter, and H.I McDunnough. The final character in every Coens film is the simpleton. This simpleton isn’t necessarily a dumb character. The Coens version of the simpleton is a character who is so pure of heart that they never think of…well, anything. This where we get Donny, Chad Feldheimer and, my personal favorite, Delmar O’Donnell from “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” 

“Hail, Caesar!” sticks to this classic Coen formula to a T. We have the Smart one: Brolin. The delusional one: Clooney. Then the simpleton played by Alden Ehrenreich in a star-making role. Ehrenreich is incredible as the cowboy-turned-boy-next-door. Originally I thought he was playing a James Dean-like actor. Only half way through did I realize he might be playing Ronald Reagan. It left me with a sad, uneasy feeling that this character is going to go on to be the President of that world. The Coens have a way of making people stars. They did it with Oscar Isaac, Tim Blake Nelson, and Michael Stuhlbarg. I think Ehrenreich is going to be the next big star because of this performance, and I’m looking forward to whatever he does next.

“Hail, Caesar!” is a good film. It’s nothing like the Coen brothers have done before. It’s not as edgy, nor is it as over the top. This is a great homage to old Hollywood, and the time period of 50’s cinema. “Hail, Caesar!” also proves how powerful the Coens are, because this movie is filled with stars in one scene cameos. Joel and Ethan can get anyone to do any role simply because they’re the Coen brothers. This is a fun little film that certainly digs us out of our January movie slump. I highly recommend you see “Hail, Caesar!”

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