This is my first film review for the 2016 Period Drama Challenge!
Two weeks ago my sister showed me a trailer for Hail, Caesar and we both decided to watch the movie together. My sister and I had the pleasure of being in a mostly empty theater (we watched the matinee) enjoying a visual feast and ode to the bygone era of the 1950s.
The movie starts out with Eddie Mannix, who works production at Capitol Pictures and keeps actors’ private lives from ruining the studios’ image. He busies himself with trying to fix DeAnna Moran’s situation as she’s pregnant and unmarried. At the word of the “boss”, Eddie puts Hobie Doyle, a newbie who stars in western B flicks into a dramatic leading role. Things get crazy when actor Baird Whitlock disappears from the set of Hail, Caesar and a ransom note appears. Eddie is feeling the pressure and ponders whether or not to take another job offer for a less challenging job with more security.
Writing a clear plot out of Hail, Caesar is a feat in of itself. This is my first film I’ve seen written and directed by the Coen Brothers, so admittedly I went into this movie expecting a consistent plot and driving force that led us from the beginning to the end. Not even halfway through the film, I realized this wasn’t your typical film. Hail, Caesar refuses to be boxed in by conventional expectations for films – instead we are given “a slice of life” of Hollywood at the time with long, quiet scenes and introspective dialogue that subtly highlights and questions the role of Hollywood during that time. There is no climatic ending. There are no deep resolutions. Instead, we have a paean to a time of lavish artistry and strict regulations. And surprisingly, I enjoyed it!
Yes, as a lover of classics, a girl who would turn on TCM and watch musicals, B flicks, dramas and epics, this film clicked with me. I adored all the references to movies and famous actors, I laughed at the absurdity of how old Hollywood did things and the comedic moments in this offbeat film, and sighed at how production companies whitewashed people’s lives and even pressured and manipulated them into doing what was “necessary” to avoid scandal. Despite it’s slow but steady pace, I was thoroughly entertained.
As the film progressed further, I did wonder at the message the Coen Brothers were trying to relate. Was this film for or against anything or just romanticizing the ‘50s altogether? The closer we got to the film’s end, the more the “real life” scenes seemed to mimic the staged, idealized life of “movie set” scenes. For example, leading character Eddie Mannix has a brief scene where he goes home and talks with his wife. Despite the fact that his work is forcing him to miss out on his children’s lives, his wife (amusingly) doesn’t care about his new job offer that would allow him to be at home more. Instead, she tells him that he knows what’s best with the job offer – in a scene that plays out something from Leave it to Beaver where family’s home lives are picture perfect and no one squabbles about anything. And then there was the submarine scene…
Even the movie’s protagonist (or is he the antagonist…?) Eddie Mannix’s character is as layered and difficult to pinpoint as this movie’s true intentions. Hard-working, quiet, and weighed down, he seems like a man just doing what he can to survive in the business world. Other times, he comes down cruelly on the actors steamrolling them into submission to the Hollywood machine. Perhaps Eddie is the true problem – as he represents the system itself that needs to change but has no understanding that anything should change or that he’s doing anything unethical.
Littered throughout this film, larger controversial subjects are discussed such as Communists and the Red Scare of the ‘50s, the role of art in filmmaking and its power, the depiction of God and Christianity onscreen, and so much more. The film doesn’t try to answer anything but merely ponder and question these realities.
My favorite character was hands down Hobie Doyle played by newish actor Alden Ehrenreich. Hobie is both adorable and hilariously naïve, seemingly unaware that he is unwanted as the leading man in a dramatic role with his terrible acting. Hobie’s just quietly happy and unruffled by anything and honestly he stole the show for me. His scenes with Carlotta were too cute.
Oh the meta/references in this film! My sister and I discussed many of the film’s allusions to classic movies, characters and scenes. Just to name a few…
DeAnna Moren (played by Scarlett Johansson) is an Esther Williams-type character who performs in swimming ballet.
Hobie Doyle being chosen as the leading role for a "serious" film reminded me of an old B flick The Cowboy and the Blonde.
Baird Whitlock’s film scene with the Romans and slaves drinking water was taken right from Ben-Hur.
Burt Gurnery (Channing Tatum) does a sailor dance scene much like Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh and On The Town.
|Josh Brolin in The Young Riders|
This film is crammed with talented actors and they carry this film wonderfully without any weak links. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for Alden Ehrenreich in his future roles and of course I love Scarlet Johansson, known for her fantastic Black Widow. Channing was ideally suited for the Gene Kelly-like character. And Josh Brolin was perfect as Eddie Mannix. I felt I’d seen Josh before, but it wasn’t until I researched it after the movie that I realized he’d played a teenaged version of Jimmy Hickock (Wild Bill Hickock) in The Young Riders, an early ‘90s show that I watched and enjoyed years ago. Plus, Brolin’s going to be playing Thanos in the upcoming Avengers Infinity War films which will be exciting to see.
If you love classic films, fans of the Coen Brothers’ works, or just enjoy beautiful cinematography, lovely period costumes and atypical, slice of life stories that make you think and laugh, you’ll enjoy Hail, Caesar!