The Coen Brothers are no strangers to the comedy genre. They have found success in the movie business by making unconventional films. Most of such films usually have an underlying dark comedic tone to it, even if the film’s plot or story take themselves seriously. (Miller’s Crossing, A Serious Man)
Of course, this is not the Coen Brother’s first attempt at a film that’s intention is to mostly provide comedy. Most of the time, ‘The Big Lebowski’ or ‘Burn After Reading’ usually comes to mind when thinking of a comedy film within their filmography. But it has been quite some time since they have decided to make a film with the only intent is to deliver comedy.
‘Hail, Caesar!’ is an american comedy film written, produced, edited and directed by the Coen Brothers: Joel and Ethan Coen. It marks the return of a Coen Brothers regular: Roger Deakins who has embarked on other projects since ‘True Grit’.
The story is set in Hollywood in 1950s, the era where Hollywood’s studio system was breaking down and the introduction of the Television within society was threatening to ‘ruin’ the film industry. A time where the Cold War was still in it’s earlier stages and Hollywood was pumping our escapism films to appeal to the american audience.
The film follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) the head of production within Capitol Pictures, responsible for both film production and managing the reputation of their stars, ensuring that only positive press about their stars gets released in the public. One of their stars, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) disappears from set and Eddie tries to figure out what happened to him.
The film portrays it’s setting at times as a sort of golden gleam. The set of the film reminds me of the old epic films of the past, with it’s large glorious sets and costume design.The table tap dancing sequence and the elaborate spectacles of water evokes the atmosphere of the old classic films, at times reminding me of the classic film musicals like ‘Singin’ in the Rain’.
As a comedy, it does it job. More often than not, I have found myself laughing out loud at the sheer absurdities within the scene. But what truly makes the film funny is not the fact that the film is rather absurd but the fact that some of the comedic content in the film may actually be possible to occur in reality. A highlight of the film, Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) the cowboy star within the veins of the Kirby Grant type actor discusses the pronunciation of his lines with his director (Ralph Fiennes) and utterly fails to do so properly despite the length of their talk. Such a thing does happen though, placing actors who don’t fit the role in such a role just because of their popularity.
That is another thing the film does, it gives us insight into the studio system within the industry of that time, perhaps showing us it’s share of ‘problems’ too. Like how the film director has no say in the casting of his actors and how the studios try to pair up actors who have not even met each other to garner some positive press.
I think the best way to sum up the film is by looking at its principle protagonist. Eddie Mannix is the ‘no – nonsense’ type guy at work. He places his work over his personal life, more often than not, he returns home late at night and spends little time with his children. He slaps his stars when they are acting silly and he visits the church for confessions very often. Too often perhaps.
It is very clear that ‘Hail, Caesar!’ is trying to convey something about old Hollywood of the 1950s. But it doesn’t really lean strongly on either side of the spectrum on whether to condemn it or to embrace it. ‘Hair, Caesar!’ is a letter that is neither one entirely of love nor condemnation, but rather it is a well written one that is both willing to mock and indulge in the Hollywood of the old, reminding us of the worst and the best of that golden era.