Well, I certainly hope this bodes well for 2016. First film experience, with something that officially opened in the new calendar year–and already a Top Ten list contender. Of course, being the latest effort from the remarkable team of Joel & Ethan Coen hardly hurt its chances for that lofty accolade. I’m pretty certain that it will hold up through December though, and being a Coen Brothers exercise, will demand repeat viewings. “Hail, Caesar!” is a nice comeback for George Clooney too, after the one-two punch critical failure of “Tomorrowland” and “The Monuments Men”. It’s a satire that adroitly mixes fact and fiction, and it’s absolutely in love with old school Hollywood filmmaking. It’s terrific.
It’s 1951, and production at Capitol Pictures is headed by workaholic Eddie Mannix ( a superb Josh Brolin). He’s also expected to keep “inside dirt” from erupting into full blown Tinseltown scandals, by way of the city’s rival gossip-reporting twin sisters (deliciously done, by Tilda Swinton, as Thora and Thessaly Thacker). So, Mannix suppresses the story of Esther Williams-esque DeeAnna Moran (a smashing Scarlett Johansson), and her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. He’s also in charge of broadening the appeal of a dopey, rope twirling, western movie star (a charming Alden Ehrenreich), by casting him in an artsy director’s (pitch perfect Ralph Fiennes) period piece–with disastrous, yet hilarious, results. But when box office king Baird Whitlock (a solid Mr. Clooney) is kidnapped from the set of a Roman epic, with ransom demands from a Communist cell known as ‘The Future’, father-and-husband Mannix finds himself pining for a more mundane life, while pondering accepting an executive position offer from the Lockheed Corporation. Oh, and there’s atomic bomb testings, a Russian submarine rendezvous, plus–a Gene Kelly-style dance number.
Esteemed Denver-based film critic Walter Chaw tweeted that “Hail, Caesar!” is “the film that “Trumbo” should have been”. I love that summation, and I wholeheartedly agree. “Trumbo” employed an all-star cast to deliver caricatures focusing on a turbulent political period in Hollywood– with tepid delivery. “Hail, Caesar!” takes the same period, using a similar casting approach, with mostly fictional characters derived from real life inspirations–and then makes a satirical, hilarious, loving homage to old Hollywood. And it still has a good dosage of smarts. Johansson is damn perfection in this, and the big dance scene with Channing Tatum is knowing and infectious. Audiences don’t seem to know what to make of “Hail, Caesar!”, and that’s a crying shame. It apparently has a horrendous CinemaScore rating, but pay that no mind. It’s a marvelous movie.
next review up: “What Happened, Miss Simone?”, plus Oscar Predictions 2016!