'quirky' from their palette and given us HAIL, CAESAR!, a high concept Hollywood satire that aesthetically sits between BARTON FINK and THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, and tells a story from the golden age of cinema.
Set in the 1950s the film takes place on the backlot of a major motion picture studio. The protagonist is Eddie Mannex (Josh Brolin), the head of Capitol Pictures, and his day-to-day function is a chaotic and rigorous micromanagement of every aspect of the business. From appeasing movie-star egos and suppressing scandals, to overseeing edits and all of the financial bullshit that makes it all happen. He is a man with much stress, all of which is confounded when he suddenly finds himself dealing with kidnappers who have taken the studio's biggest star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney).
How the average movie-goer will respond to HAIL, CAESAR! is an interesting question. It certainly has the star power and with a fantastic trailer preceding the film I am sure many people will feel cheated. Yet for Coen fans and cinema enthusiasts it is a rich tapestry of historical context and a lovingly recreated period. There is a lot going on within the story itself, which is deliberately convoluted, and surrounding all of its mayhem are various themes of the era such as the rise of television (and its implications), the fear of soviet invasion and inequity in Hollywood. The result is a farcical crock-pot of hilarity that begs for multiple viewings.
Ensemble playbills are all too fashionable and overused right now, in my opinion, but when it comes to HAIL, CAESAR! there isn't a better excuse to call upon as many notable players as possible. Allow me to indulge myself with a roll-call... aside from the aforementioned actors the rest of the cast includes; Channing Tatum, Scarlet Johansen, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Francis McDormand, Alison Pill, Clancy Brown, Robert Picado, Wayne Knight, Jonah Hill and Michael Gambon as the narrator... but wait, there's more. To see Christopher Lambert appear on screen was the most pleasant surprise of all. He appears as a sensitive foreign director and while his appearance is brief it is nevertheless endearing. I was thrilled to see him. And keen observers will also relish a very cheeky cameo from Dolph Lundgren, whose placement within the film will remain secret in this review.
It is virtually impossible to nominate any of The Coen Brothers titles as their “worst”. Heck, their lesser films are better than most filmmaker's best. And so the arrangement of their films from least to most is purely subjective, and there will never be a consensus. When placing HAIL, CAESAR! amongst them I guess I would whack it somewhere in the middle... and believe me, that is a tricky task and an absolute testament to their brilliance.