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Nerdlocker Movie Review: Hail, Caesar!

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Hail, Coens! The brothers are back with a gloriously silly entry in their canon, one that will please the die-hards and divide the masses. It’s been pegged as Coen Lite–even I jotted that down in my film notes–but after letting it marinate for a day, I’m not so quick to apply the “Lite” label. Hail, Caesar! is full-on Coen brothers madness and it finds the fellas in top form.

The cast is crazy; Clooney, Brolin, Fiennes, Johansson, McDormand, Swinton, Channing Tatum, and Jonah Hill. Alden Ehrenreich steals the show as a Roy Rogers style cowboy-like actor cast against type, hilariously incapable of properly pronouncing his lines. In an amusing scene with Ralph Fiennes (seen in the trailer below) Ehrenreich’s character repeatedly butchers the line, “Would that it were so simple.” The scene draws laughs and is reminiscent of the one in Singin’ in the Rain where Jean Hagen, playing actress Lina Lamont, has difficulty saying the line, “I can’t stand him.” There are several tips of the hat to classic Hollywood (and as many jabs), and the more knowledge of it you have, the more you’ll appreciate Hail, Caesar!. It isn’t necessary–the film works on many levels–but the more you know about 1950s cinema, the better.

The acting is superb. Josh Brolin is the centerpiece as Hollywood “fixer” Eddie Manix. Already dealing with a variety of issues at Capital Pictures, Manix discovers that Baird Whitlock (Clooney), the star of his swords-and-sandals epic, has been kidnapped by a mysterious group called “The Future” and is being held for ransom. Fiennes, terrific in The Grand Budapest Hotel, once again thumps his funny bone with a small turn as director Laurence Lorenz. Scarlett Johansson and Frances McDormand shine as a pregnant, twice divorced synchronized swimmer a la Esther Willams, and a grey-haired lightning-quick film editor, respectively. Tilda Swinton plays twin gossip columnists and Channing Tatum spins and grins as a silver screen song and dance man in the vein of Gene Kelly.

The movie feels loose in structure and like other Coen brothers pictures, it unfolds on its own terms, unpredictably. Their films are complex and it’s tough to catch everything the first time around. Movies like The Big Lebowski, Burn After Reading, and Inside Llewyn Davis improve on subsequent viewings and age well. They’re full of small, brilliant moments, and repeat viewings reveal unique subtleties and little gems of dialogue previously unnoticed. There’s a depth and nuance to all of their movies and Hail, Caesar! is no different. I look forward to spending more time with these characters.

The film has excellent production values. Old pro Roger Deakins shot on film for the first time since True Grit (2010) and the results are fantastic. There’s beautiful footage filmed on the Warner Bros. backlots, impressively covered synchronized swimming and dance numbers, impeccable lighting, and subtle changes in visual style that mimic the films of the period. Deakins discussed working on Hail, Caesar! in a recent interview with Variety and sadly announced that shooting on film is dead (due to an abundance of technical problems). It’s a shame because the movie looks great.

This is Clooney’s third pairing with the Coens. Long before there was a script, Hail, Caesar! floated around as an idea. In a 2008 article from the LA Times Joel Coen said the following: “We kind of teased George with the opportunity to play another numskull. He was totally up for it. Part of the ‘Numskull Trilogy.'” (Following O Brother, Where Art Though? and Intolerable Cruelty). To be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of Clooney doing screwball comedy, it’s not his strong suit. His quirky, animated turns are intentionally hammy and over-the-top, but in this case it works. The movie’s funny because the script is funny and the cast plays it to perfection. With shades of the previous “Numskull” movies, a dash of Barton Fink, and a dose of old Hollywood, the brothers Coen have once again crafted a crazy concoction that is silly, smart, fun and uniquely flavorful.

4 out of 5 Nerdskulls

Trailer:

Stills:

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Salty Winters once said, "Everything I learned I learned from the movies." He was quoting Audrey Hepburn.