I love movies. I love writing about them. Hope you like reading what I write.
Ah the Coens. Two of my filmmaking icons. Let’s see if I can get beyond my rampant fanboy-ism of these brothers and deliver my first, totally unbiased review of a film they’ve directed.
Hail, Caesar! is their eagerly awaited latest project centred around the fictional Golden Age Hollywood studio Capitol Pictures in the 1950s and a “fixer” played by Josh Brolin, a fixer being basically the guy that solves problems facing the many movies being shot on the lot, whether they involve kidnappings, extra-marital pregnancies or even tap-dancing Channing Tatums!
I am a huge Coen brothers fan. Their writing, their subtle yet affecting direction which generally goes partnered with the wonderful cinematography of Roger Deakins, their characters and their bizarre stories feel like something just altogether wholesome as a film experience.
That style is here in full swing, though like with most of their best work, there is definitely a twist. Since this is a movie partially about the making of movies, we get a tantalising glimpse at what films of that era would look like if they were still to be made in the same style today.
The title refers to swords and sandals epic which is basically Ben-Hur with a couple of details changed and it is really cool to see George Clooney as this buffoonish parody of Charlton Heston. Clooney, in my opinion, makes a phenomenal idiot.
Josh Brolin as the fixer is definitely the centre of this film, within its cast of big names. His presence to me is proof that for all the nihilism you could accuse them from some of their previous works, the Coens have a love of the ordinary individual and a respect for the Spielbergianly whimsical.
The rest of the cast are excellent in their little Coeny roles. I define “Coeny” as an adjective describing a role small enough in overall effect of the story to be counted as small, but having an effortless charm that stays with you for far beyond their screen-time.
What’s interesting with this story is that it definitely has all the fingerprints of a Coen brothers piece while the well-rounded and relatively uncomplicated edges of Golden Age Hollywood have rubbed off on them.
While we do have oddball characters appearing and disappearing in bizarre ways and a mixture between the quite dark and the wholly light and good like most of their best stuff, when the film ends, you feel like it’s an ending to a movie rather than just a perfectly, though strangely placed full-stop. This is not selling out by going more mainstream, in my opinion, this is simply adapting to the setting they’ve provided themselves.
If I had one complaint, it would be a technical nit-pick. The Coens and Deakins are clearly replicating the direction, editing style and cinematography of films from the 1950s, particularly in sequences where we see those films being made, and it is nice to see Deakins returning to film stock. However, for those aforementioned sequences, it would have been pretty cool to see the film look like a little more like it was shot back then, perhaps with a little more grain or something.
But that’s the film nerd in me talking. All I can say is that this is the purest fun that I’ve had in a cinema so far this year. I love this little tribute to the pros and cons of old Hollywood. It’s funny, colourful, brilliantly written and, if you don’t mind me sounding like an old man, bounding with an energy you don’t see in films much these days.
Recommended Scenario: When you’re ready for a good time with a film by a couple of masters.