In the 1950s movie stars didn’t know it, but one man had their back and maintained their star image beyond the silver screen. Hail Caesar! Is an offbeat rental movie about movie making at the end of the golden era and the man behind the stars. I have no doubt it would grow in my affection with repeated viewings.
Hail Ceasar! Takes place during a time when studios manipulated its contract players and worked the media to prevent the “unfortunate” aspects from being revealed to an audience that just wanted escapism fantasy. Josh Brolin is the tightly-wound studio “head of physical production”, an enforcer who’s being seduced by a potential job with Lockheed to oversee work on the atom bomb. Before he can come to a decision about whether or not take it, he has to deal with the sudden disappearance of the slightly disconnected-from-reality George Clooney (who looks like he’s having a blast in this, especially in the final scene of his big budget sword-and-sandal Jesus epic). Along the way, viewers get to enjoy other period movie styles, including Esther Williams, Carmen Miranda, Gene Kelly, and a host of other stars from the era.
That salute to old style movie magic is what makes the film so much fun. It’s not about the story, it’s about how the Coens are celebrating the films we have perhaps idealized a bit too much: Esther Williams’ underwater ballets and Gene Kelly in NYC for 24 hours and Gary Cooper trying to play it in a toney, high-class period drama. There are so many references to the great films of the day that if you blink, you’ll miss a few. They come fast and furious and sometimes with little more than a sly wink. That’s why you’ll want to watch Caesar a few times.
Channing Tatum is a revelation as a song and dance man in a Gene Kelly tribute. His song and dance number was a highlight of the film and I could watch this stuff all day: I would personally LOVE IT if someone would make a complete retro-feature film in this ilk.
Also capturing my attention was a young Ehrenreich as the upcoming Western star without a clue. Many of his scenes, especially those with classical director Laurence Laurentz (a brilliant Ralph Fiennes) are incredibly hilarious!
There are lots of opinions on this movie. Hail Caesar! Doesn’t have a strong plot line, but it’s a very pleasant, clever film. I personally found it a light-hearted and nostalgic trip into a golden age of studio-management.
If you are an old time movie buff like me, you will love this film to bits. If you’re not a movie buff, well, you aren’t the target audience and probably won’t enjoy it all that much.