Review: Hail Caesar! A Tale of the Christ

Posted: February 23, 2016 in Movie Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Hail Caesar! posterThis latest from the Coen Brothers will appeal to Coen Brothers fans. It should also appeal to film buffs. As for everyday movie goers, it’s anyone’s guess. (I saw the film opening night, and it’s a good bet that most of the audience consisted of Coen fans.)

Set in 1951, Hail Caesar is a mostly appreciative, often funny, in part contemptuous look at the Hollywood system of the times and the genres of the films it produced. Those genres include the biblical epic, the aquatic spectacle (think Ethel Merman–played here by Scarlet Johannson), the naval musical (yes, they existed), film noir, the drawing room farce, the singing-cowboy western, and one nonHollywood genre: the socialist-realist propaganda film, complete with a male chorus singing a mock-heroic minor key dirge in the background.

The story revolves around two central characters, Josh Brolin as hard-driving studio head and fixer, Eddie Mannix, and George Clooney as the leading man in the biblical epic, “Hail Caesar! A Tale of the Christ.” Both are very good, and Clo0ney, as clueless actor Baird Whitlock, is quite funny in many scenes. There’s also a group of Communists, including one screenwriter who looks very much like Bryan Cranston playing Dalton Trumbo. But among the minor characters, Tilda Swinton, playing on-the-outs, one-upping twin gossip columnists stands out; she’s simply spot on, and I’d liked to have seen more of her.

The plot, which concerns the disappearance of the hard-drinking, womanizing Whitlock near the end of the filming of the biblical epic, and the attempts to find him, is minimal. It largely serves as the glue holding together the very well staged and well shot “homages” (“mockages” might be closer) to the various genres and the many jokes, both obvious and “in,” throughout the film.

The secondary nature of the plot, and the film’s many disparate elements, make it difficult to classify Hail Caesar! Is it a farce, a satire, a detective film, an homage, a historical “dramedy”? Who knows. Who cares. It works.

Recommended.

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