Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring Josh Brolin, Alden Ehrenreich, George Clooney
The Coen Brothers are arguably cinema’s most consistent source of great films, with the likes of The Big Lebowski and No Country for Old Men regarded as classics. However their names are also relatively obscure compared to their contemporaries, such as Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson. This is a shame as their films are reliably entertaining, as Hail, Caeser! shows.
The plot, in Coens’ traditionally meandering way, follows Eddie Mannix (Brolin) as he tries to keep the Hollywood studio Capitol Pictures functioning. He has to control the pressures of unruly stars, persistent press and his own backbreaking workload- which in this goofily comic exploration of faith, idolisation and communism, is quite a lot.
Brolin’s acting is fantastic, portraying perfectly Mannix’s stubborn resilience to the state of his studio, whilst also bowing to the influences of familial strain and obnoxiously difficult employees. However the break-out act of the film is Ehrenreich’s Hobie Doyle, an up-and-coming young star (not unlike him in real life) who is trying to resist typecasting. He shows a wonderful range, from awkward and uncomfortable in his scene with Ralph Fiennes, to charming and witty at a later dinner date. Ehrenreich definitely seems like an actor to keep an eye on.
The cast for the film had many high-billed actors, yet most- such as Jonah Hill or Scarlett Johansson, only appear for one or two scenes. George Clooney is one of the only stars with a consistent role, playing the veteran star of the studio’s biggest yet film. His dopish portrayal of a slightly stupid star is fun to watch but would have benefited from some additional characterisation. The main selling-point of the film, as with many Coen films, is the humour. From Clooney or Tilda Swinton’s goofy performances to nearly every reference to communism throughout, the film knows how to set up and then subvert our expectations. This is great as it plays a delicate counterpoint to the darker themes throughout, of faith and life’s unfathomable plan, or solitude in a busy world. It could be said that the film’s plot revolves more around these themes than an actual story- which is good, as actual dramatic action seems lacking.
The film is intermittently narrated by Michael Gambon, perhaps playing a ‘God’ role to fit in with the theme- but the film regularly forgets him, so when his narration does start it seems jarring. Other than that, there is not much to say about the technical side to the film. Carter Burwell’s music is fitting but unmemorable, save for a few musical segments, and Roger Deakin’s cinematography is appropriate but not awe-inspiring. However, for impressive soundtracks and breath-taking cinematography, Coen films have never particularly stood out.
Hail, Caeser! is an entertaining and enjoyable film, with the performances and humour really standing out. Unfortunately the film falls foul of the Coen brothers’ own legacy, drawing unavoidable comparisons to similar films
The Big Lebowski and Fargo – compared to which, the film simply falls short. Despite this, it’s one of the best films currently out and as such is worth catching.
Review by Tom Bedford