Hail, Caesar! is another delight from the Coen brothers, one of their lighter fare that tend to come out between their award winning dramatic films almost like a palette cleanser.
Set in 1951, it stars Josh Brolin as studio fixer Eddie Mannix charged with keeping stars out of the gossip rags and smoothing out production problems. In a week that he is being courted for a higher paying job at the Lockheed Corporation, the studio’s biggest star Baird Whitlock (Clooney) is kidnapped and held to ransom while their biggest starlet DeeAnna Moran (Johansson) is revealed to be pregnant and unwed. Brolin who can play bruisers is refreshingly restrained here playing Mannix as someone who more often than not has to think 3 steps ahead and remain calm while everybody else is losing their cool. The actor is joined by an all-star cast including George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum and a delightful cameo by Christopher Lambert. The film may just be stolen from them all by Alden Ehrenreich in a break out performance as Hobie Doyle, a musical western star who has been cast against type in a period drama and is a lot smarter than people expect in an old practical way country folk often are.
The film is at its most charming when meticulously recreating the style of films of that era and then subverting them. Great care has been taken to use film stock, implement CGI to create effects that appear like rear projection and model work of yesteryear and make original musical numbers that evoke the past classics. While there are references to our own times and not everything from the 1950s is seen through rose tinted glasses it is made by filmmakers who adore their medium. The classic Coen wit is in full force, a particular stand out sequence involve religious leaders debating what they will support being shown in the studio’s latest religious epic. Unlikely to become a cult classic like their best comedies it is still a beautiful Valentines letter to Old Hollywood and will be appreciated best by people who truly love movies.
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