I’m the first to admit that I’m not a die hard fan of The Coen Brothers. As much as I love many of their films, there are some that just don’t do it for me. While I can always appreciate what they are trying to do, it doesn’t always work for me.
Howver, Hail, Caeser! is one that I lapped up even though it still had moments that didn’t sit quite right for me; those fleeting moments are outnumbered by those that nailed it. It’s a simple enough story following a day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Brolin), a Hollywood fixer for Capitol Pictures in the 1950s. His job is to solve problems for the industry’s biggest stars and make sure they remain as squeaky clean and constantly marketable – which covers everything from secret sexy photo shoots to illegitimate children through keeping skeletons (and people) closeted and keeping the communists at bay. Few things, to this day, scare Americans more than communism. When studio star Baird Whitlock (Clooney) disappears, Mannix has to deal with more than just the usual fix.
The good news is that even though the film is crammed with quirk and eccentricity, Hail, Caeser! manages to stay the right side of the intersection of Wacky and Romp and its personality never feels forced. The film is crammed with some of the biggest names in the industry, although their screentime varies massively and that is a flaw – sometimes it fees a bit too much to not have enough from so many. I won’t go through the whole cast one by one as they all bring something great to the table but special mention to a select few. McDormand is just superb in her fleeting appearance as CC Calhoun, Tatum is dynamic and fun as Burt Gurney, Hill is perfectly subtle but makes a big impression as Joseph Silverman and the list of exemplary performances goes on. However, it's the sublime and eminently watchable Ehrenreich, the least known main cast member, who almost steals the show as Hobie Doyle.
Clooney, the biggest star of them all, is his usual dependable, entertaining and hugely watchable self but this is not his film – that honour belongs to Josh Brolin who gives a perfectly balanced but broad performance as Eddie Mannix. He’s an absolutely joy to watch and makes you wonder why he’s not a bigger star because he nails everything he does, every single time – he works it hard but makes it look effortless. Also, they might not have the biggest roles but Patrick Fischler, Fisher Stevens and David Krumholtz are wonderful as members of a secret society. A scene involving Mannix and three men religious figures is comedic perfection and classic Coen Brothers. And keep an eye out for Christopher Lambert in a turn you won’t be expecting.
Funny, smart, accessible, wonderfully observed and stylishly shot (as always!), this is up there with the Coen Brothers films that I love such as Inside Llewyn Davis, True Grit, No Country For Old Men, The Big Lebowski and Barton Fink. It’s great fun, executed beautifully and you can’t ask for much more than that.
EXTRAS: Four short but terrific behind-the-scenes featurettes – Directing Hollywood (4:11), The Stars Align (11:34), An Era of Glamour (6:22) and Magic Of a Bygone Era (6:01). MOst of the cast are interviewed as well as producedrs and coreographers and the like ... but not a word form the Coens themselves, sadly.