HAIL, CAESAR! [2016]

hail-caesar-quad Directed by  Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Written by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing TatumJonah Hill


The Coen brothers instantly became my favourite film-makers after I saw The Man Who Wasn’t There. It was unlike anything I’d seen before. Since then I have seen most of their films, and the only dud of the bunch is their (incredibly unnecessary) remake of the classic UK comedy, The Ladykillers. I am aware that I am quite probably rambling at this point, but what I am trying to say is that you truly do not know what you are going to get with a Coen brothers film. A gangster flick, a classic throwback noir tale, a folk singer down on his luck in the 60’s, one of the first stoner comedies… their films contain so much variety that it is quite amazing that they write all these great stories themselves. No strangers to period films then, Hail, Caesar! looks immaculate from the opening scene. Harking back to the 50’s, the set/costume design is perfect, paired with some mostly understated but great looking cinematography.

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The story is very simple but also very entertaining, while also commenting (quite correctly) on the state of cinema, the true purpose of big budget films, and what goes on behind the scenes. We follow Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix as he visits a vast array of stars and directors, and almost every visit offers some great moments. I won’t lie, this is not funny on the level of The Big Lebowski or Fargo, but I was chuckling and smiling for the entire duration. This is a funny movie.

Capitol Pictures (sound familiar?) is making an epic movie, titled, you guessed it, Hail, Caesar! It is to be a Roman epic, a Ben-Hur-like massive production. It stars Baird Whitlock, played by George Clooney, who snaps out of the every-day character he normally plays and inhibits this bizarre movie-star. More than three times now, the Coens have gotten more out of Clooney than any other director.

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Early into the movie Baird is kidnapped, and Mannix does his best to hide the fact from the press while trying to shoot scenes for the movie using Baird’s double. The kidnapping itself is quite funny, as Baird doesn’t initially seem to realise that he has been kidnapped. Those who have kidnapped him oppose the film industry and what it represents, among other things, and the conversations between this group of ten or twelve people is funny in that dry way that only the Coens can pull off. As all this happens, Baird begins to understand their position.

Despite the kidnapping, Mannix is a busy man, keeping his eyes on stars’ images, visiting other film sets and fixing problems, all while trying to keep things away from the press.

First he has a meeting with leaders from different religions, to talk about the religious themes in Hail, Caesar! What ensues is a hilarious conversation between all the priests/rabbi about who is god, who recognises god, who the son of god is… it goes on, with the conversation having nothing to do with the movie at all. I couldn’t help but giggle stupidly. The Coens do this sort of thing so well, their dialogue is near faultless.

He next visits a drama being made by a prominent director. The only replacement they could find for a last minute replacement is Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich). He had only worked on westerns previously, not talking a great deal, but he was all they could find. I couldn’t help but laugh when he walks into the dramatic set very rigidly, reminiscent of a John Wayne impersonation. A discussion between him and the director is also quite funny, as the director tries to have the new actor say a line right. Ralph Fiennes is great as the director here, recalling his humorous performance in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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Mannix visits other movie sets, one that looks to involve mermaids and synchronised swimming, and here we meet DeeAnna Moran, an actress with an attitude. She has been in two marriages to two ‘louses’, but is now pregnant. Enter Mannix, who needs to protect her image and ensure that the baby goes up for adoption under a different name, so she can adopt the child and keep her image clean. Eddie, it would seem, is quite good at his job. Making it harder though is Tilda Swinton, playing two journalist twins who are both hilarious caricatures, supposedly opposite, but both dealing purely in Hollywood gossip. Mannix handles them well, in again a very dry manner.

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There are other films and problems Mannix needs to fix, and while they may seem like sub-plots that don’t really go anywhere, they aren’t so much plots as they are movies within the movie. They are very funny for the most part, but more importantly they also depict the life of Mannix perfectly, showcasing the sheer amount of people he has to keep in check.  Representative of this is how often he checks his wrist-watch throughout.

Unfortunately, this is not up there with their best efforts. It was certainly funny throughout, but the story lacked any real urgency or suspense – especially for a film about a kidnapping. It is a comedy, but I think the kidnapping could have been explored further, though what we do get is quite funny for the most part. There is also a lack of energy that a film like Fargo had in spades. The ending was also a bit of a let down, but it is far from ruining the film. It also had that Coen weirdness to it, which you either love or hate.

It may lack in some areas, but this is a funny Coen brothers flick through and through, with eccentric characters, oddball humour and their patented snappy, humorous dialogue.  It won’t sit as a favourite for many Coen fans, but they have made so many great films now it must be hard to top each previous effort. Hail, Caesar!, like all Coen films, is its own entity entirely. And let’s face it – a solid flick from the Coen brothers is going to be better than most other films anyway.

36 Comments on “HAIL, CAESAR! [2016]

    • I can’t think of any two that come close. The fact that they WRITE all their material as well is even more impressive. 30 years now they have been at it, and there is only one dud of them all

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      • Hehehe. That one isn’t one of their more popular ones but I just love it. My favourite though is Burn After Reading. So goddamn funny!!

        And they seem to be the only directors who get the best out of Clooney. I’ve only seen him as good as he is in Coen films when Tarantino directed him in From Dusk Till Dawn, he was great in that too. Otherwise he seems on auto-pilot

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  1. Good to see you had a better time with this than I did buddy. It had its moments but for me the story lacking was more problematic. But your’e right; even low-quality Coen stuff is better than most crap out there! Definitely definitely

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeah definitely not up there with their best, but as a pure comedy it is pretty damned funny. I think they were just having a bit of fun with this one after Inside Llewlyn Davis. Like I thought the subplots didn’t bother me, cos they seemed to represent just how much Mannix has to deal with. I do wish though that they made more out of the kidnapping, that was a bit of a let-down

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Don’t hate me Jordan, but Coen brothers are not my fave filmmakers. I mean I like some of their stuff, but I don’t know if there’s one I absolutely love. I did enjoy this one quite a bit and it’s a lot funnier and more entertaining than I thought it’d be. Yet I can’t give it a high rating as the story is so shallow and unfocused, that as a whole it just wasn’t a great movie. I do love that bit w/ Alden & Ralph though, it had me in stitches!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, how could I hate you Ruth?! You are too cool for school 🙂

      Fair call on Hail, Caesar. The story was shallow, especially the kidnapping… I think they were just having fun with this one.

      How about the scene where all the priests are arguing about religion? That had me giggling like an idiot as well. I don’t mind sacrificing story for humour, cos so few movies make me laugh. The Coens rarely fail ;D

      BTW I just saw Pride and Prejudice and Zombies playing at the cinemas near me! Should I go see it? I’ve never seen Pride and prejudice… I don’t even know what it is really… would that ruin the experience do you think?

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      • Ahah, I don’t think I’m cool at all, but that’s sweet of you to say 😀

        Oh yeah I didn’t mention about the religion bit, that was quite hilarious. Overall I was entertained, I just didn’t think it’s a very compelling or coherent movie.

        Oooooh YES do see PPZ!! I’m rather obsessed w/ that one at the moment, but I’m a huge fan of Jane Austen! I’d say it’s more of a period drama comedy than a zombie movie, as it might not be gory enough for zombie genre fans but for me it’s just perfect! I don’t think you need to know or have seen the original P&P before going in, the main story is about the love story between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, but I think you’ll love this one because it’s set in the midst of zombie apocalypse so the romance is amplified w/ some epic fight sequences! Sam Riley is dashing and dangerous as the Samurai-wielding Mr. Darcy, it’s very different performance than in Control so for that reason alone you should watch it!!

        Pardon the long response but clearly I’m quite passionate about the subject 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • hehe no need to apologise. I like how all these movie blogs generate discussion. Its great

        I’m gonna go see PPZ tomorrow 😀 I really enjoy violent comedies so it sounds like something I’ll like. I’m not a huge gore fan but I love it when gore is used for comedy… is PPZ anything like that? How bloody is it? I’ll probs end up seeing it anyway, just curious. It’ll be good to see Sam Riley in something else too

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      • It’s not very bloody or gory but the zombies somehow fits nicely into the Regency era story! And yes the horror is used for comedic effect though the actors play it straight. Hope you enjoy it man!

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  3. Great post 🙂 Hail, Caesar was very good. I will admit that it was more intelligent than laugh-out loud funny, that is by no means a bad thing. In fact, one could say that it is actually more intelligent than most mainstream comedies these days. Usually in all of The Coen Brothers comedies, Joel and Ethan Coen take intelligence and combine it with laugh-out loud hilarity. Here, their is only a few laugh-out loud moments, but as a whole, I did greatly enjoy it and it is every bit as good as Intolerable Cruelty at the very least. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for the kind words mate. 🙂 Means a lot

      I’m with you, a Coens comedy is gonna require a bit more attention than your average comedy, like something with Kevin Hart. I agree there were only a few lough-out-loud moments, but I was chuckling and smiling the whole time. The best thing about it is the dialogue, no doubt. How funny was that argument about religion!

      Intolerable Cruelty I think is an apt comparison. I love that one too 😀 The Coens do comedy like no one else

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice review Jordan. I meant to see Hail Caesar when it first opened but unfortunately have had little free time to check it out. Hope to watch it before it exits theaters.

    Like

      • Just watched it the other night and I really enjoyed it. Not a top tier Coen brothers picture but still pretty solid.

        Like

      • I agree, some are making it out to be one of their worst, which baffles me. It reminds me of Burn After Reading, which I love. I’ll probably be going to see it again before its gone from the cinemas

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Awesome review! Love this sentence – “but this is a funny Coen brothers flick through and through, with eccentric characters, oddball humour and their patented snappy, humorous dialogue.” I don’t love all of the Coen brothers movies but I sure do appreciate them. Can’t wait to watch this!!

    Like

  6. i liked the film myself..but my guest really really didn’t. He said it was full of innuendos that he didn’t get and only industry people would get..and middle america would never get it..And I completely got what he said. He did though agree with me on the fantastic filming of some of the sequences.. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Nice review man. One of my favorite Coen Brothers films in recent times and definitely feels like a Coen Brothers film through and through

    Like

  8. You know my thoughts on this one, mate. Hal’s to hear that it worked so well for you, though. I’m hoping that I’ll take more from it on a second viewing. After all, The Big Lebowski is my all time favourite film and I wasn’t too sure how to take that the first time I seen it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The ones that need a few re-watches are often the best ones! 🙂 I do agree though that this is far from them at their best, but at least they are consistently interesting

      Liked by 1 person

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