39 of 366: Hail, Caesar!


The Coen Brothers are in their own world of cinema. A while ago I started a Coen Brothers retrospective as a way to watch all of their films in chronological order but, unlike what is going to happen with this movie challenge, I didn’t complete that project.

I have more of their films on my list to watch this year, but it won’t be such a concentrated study of their work. I often find myself comparing films I see to the works of other directors or actors’ roles in a new project to one of their past performances, but with the Coen Brothers it is just trying to match where a new film fits in to their whole cinematic library.

Is Hail, Caesar! more on the level of older films like Raising Arizona or Miller’s Crossing or that of Burn After Reading or low points in their career like The Ladykillers?

Truth is, the latest from the Coen Brothers stands on its own. It’s definitely not their best film and it’s definitely not the worst. Hail, Caesar! has some of their trademark style points and actors, but those combined felt a little disjointed and parts of the plot and characters seemed unnecessary to me.

Josh Brolin as Hollywood studio “fixer” Eddie Mannix and George Clooney as leading man Baird Whitlock lead the film surrounded by supporting characters in the movie-within-a-movie style, including Scarlett Johannson, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes and Channing Tatum.

All the characters have dual roles, or personas, in some ways. Mannix in his studio executive role is putting out fires everywhere as different movies at Capitol Pictures are in production, all the while trying to be a family man and decide if his chosen career is the right one.

Clooney as Whitlock is a pawn to show the battle between Hollywood and politics in the era it is set in and the others, especially Tatum as Burt Gurney and Swinton in two roles as twin sister journalists Thora Thacker and Thessaly Thacker, are part of the plot to both cover up and uncover the scandal going on behind the scenes.

I enjoyed the basic premise of Hail, Caesar! and found the performances of the central cast to be strong, but the Coen Brothers seemed to be trying too hard to come out with the next big thing with a tribute to Hollywood in the background.

I was really looking forward to Hail, Caesar! when I saw the trailer and I am already excited for the next Coen Brothers movie that I don’t even know about yet. That is their level of power in Hollywood.

They can try out different creative projects and ventures and always have success on some level because of their past accomplishments in the film world. I am sure I have written about it before, but I saw them once in Minneapolis while they were filming A Serious Man.

They sat in their director chairs in Uptown on the set, while we were trying to get my sister moved out of her apartment before the street closed, completely at home and commanding a whole production on a busy street corner. The fact that they can do that in their hometown to make a film tribute to their roots and turn around and make an Oscar-winner the next year is inspiring.

They have their hands in so many projects between writing, directing and producing in collaboration with other filmmakers and then writing and directing their films together, the result being you just have to see the next Coen Brothers movie.

In other news, John Hodgman posted this on Facebook yesterday. I don’t know the context of it, but I like the quote.

“‘Human’ does not mean ‘never profoundly wrong.’ To which I think the history of humanity will attest.”




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