I’ve been waiting for this film for a long old time. It’s a Coen Brother’s brothers film set in the so called Golden Age of Hollywood and features a stellar cast, so it’s been marked on my calendar well in advance.
As with all my reviews, I tend to get carried away with talking about the film so if you want to stay completely spoiler free about this film, avoid this post until you’ve seen it.
Written, produced and directed by Joel & Ethan Coen, the story follows “fixer” for a film studio Eddie Mannix, as he tries to keep scandal and problems out of the studio and out of the press. He’s faced with fixing three main things throughout the course of the film; the main being the abduction of the main movie star of the studio, Baird Whitlock – played by George Clooney. As with almost every Coen Brother’s film, it’s hard to break the plot down to just one thing. The film features multiple interlocking story lines that entwine and create constant trouble for Mr Mannix to fix, as he contemplates leaving the crazy industry for a calmer career.
There are so many brilliant little surprises in this film. Scarlett Johannsson as a mouthy, slightly trashy film star is hilarious, Tilda Swinton as twin rival journalists is brilliant and Channing Tatum as a tap dancing and singing star is genius. Who’d have thought he could sing too?
The writing is so slick and smart, and obviously has Coen stamped all over it. The whole film seems continuous and non stopping which is absolutely one of their trademarks.
The star of this film is of course, Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix. He opens the film weeping in a confessional booth at 4am, and doesn’t seem to stop for the next fifty one hours or so. He is BRILLIANT in this role, brings all the strength, power and vulnerability that’s needed to make him trustworthy and likeable to the character – though that may be down to the little Walt Disney moustache.
The heart of the film though goes to Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle, a young heartthrob actor whose Western films are hugely successful, but who struggles once thrown into a drama film. He’s such a beautifully innocent character that just wants to do right by people and Ehrenreich plays him perfectly. My favourite Hobie scene was the whole experience of his movie premiere: before, when he was seen entertaining himself with lasso tricks outside the house of Carlotta Valdez – his date to the event (portrayed brilliantly by Verónica Osorio); during, when his beautiful singing scene in the picture is overshadowed by a few comedic moments by a supporting star; and after, where he abandons the enjoyable date politely yet without second thought in order to help Mr Mannix. And whoever does his stunts is AMAZING.
Mary Zophres stuns as costume designer. Not only did she create all the costumes to fit the working crews behind the early 1950s film industry, but also created extravagant costumes for the six different motion pictured featured. This includes a huge old load of sailor costumes for a musical number; cowboy hats and bolo ties for Westerns; a mass of ballgowns for a drama movie; a shimmery green mermaid suit and a large number of bathing suits for an underwater scene; and then costumes for one hundred and seventy Roman, one hundred and twenty Israelite, and forty five slave extras for Hail, Caesar!, the film within the film.
What I’ve read about her research for the non-movie costumes is amazing too. As the film is set in early 1954, she researched clothing from the mid 1940s upwards on the understanding that people would be wearing clothes they’d purchased in earlier years (which I hadn’t even considered before), as well as looking through behind the scenes footage from the MGM library to study the real crews of the time. Apparently over five hundred of the costumes were fitted to the actor too, so the work that Zophres put in is actually awe inspiring. She’s definitely a favourite of mine.
Also a big part of the film – Communism. I can’t really get too much into it without giving away the big parts of the film, but it’s just that little bit of political input that makes the story a little bit more real, and not so much relying on the glamour. It also surprisingly saves the day in the end – but I’ll let you see why.
As I’ve said earlier, Coen Brother’s films are notoriously complex. With an all star cast, with some of them only having three or four lines, it’s hard to sum up the characters and their roles in the film without bullet pointing. So here’s some bullet pointing:
And the real film stars they’re like.
Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin)
Think: E.J Mannix
Straight from the real Golden Age, E.J Mannix is a person who’s story deserved to be told – even if it was just the concept of his role as a Hollywood ‘fixer’. He’s such a brilliantly kind and caring character, who really grows on you.
Baird Whitlock (George Clooney)
The classic naive Hollywood movie star. He’s kidnapped by a group who call themselves The Future, and then befriends them. He’s the average-intelligence type that believes anything said to him,
Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich)
Think: Kirby Grant
Absolute heartbreaker. His talent is often overshadowed by people’s perception of him, as he does lack quite a bit of intelligence. With the right teaching and coaxing he could achieve anything, but many completely underestimate him. Also he can do some amazing lasso tricks – even with spaghetti.
DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson)
Think: Esther Williams
DeeAnna is introduced in the film as she would have been seen by the public – in an angelic role that shows her beauty and creates an air of mystery. When she pops out of character she’s a crude woman trying to find husband number three after becoming pregnant with a married man’s child. Her flirtatious nature is both her best and worst feature.
Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes)
A British director who resides in America. He’s very proud of the name he’s created for himself, and is determined to uphold that name. He also has some scandalous backstories that gossip columns would adore to publish.
Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton)
Think: Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons
Tilda is in her element as these rival journalist twins. Each out for their own exclusive scoop for their individual gossip columns, these two never face each other but always come one after the other.
Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum)
Think: Gene Kelly
A brilliant, charming young actor with singing and dancing skills to match. His “No Dames” number is actually breathtaking, and had me grinning ear to ear. This is definitely one of the less subtle real-person references, as Gene Kelly is written all over him – from the skills to the costume.
C.C Calhoun (Frances McDormand)
Wife to Joel Coen, Frances’ brief role as film editor C.C is full of comedy and also a jump scare (at least scary to me). She brings so much natural wit and realness to every character she plays, and her little role in this film is one of my favourites.
Joseph Silverman (Jonah Hill)
Joe is an incredibly loyal lawyer for the studio, who’s even served prison time to cover for them. He’s dull, extremely simple and very comedic in that sense – but does have a very happy ending. I just want to quickly mention how much of an amazing actor Jonah Hill is – this character only has three or so lines and yet his performance is a total stand out.
Hail, Caeser! in whole is like a big homage to the ever-wild industry that is film making. It shows the madness, the stress and the frustration Hollywood brings, but also fondly shows how it’s that mad business that makes people fall in love with it.