The Quarantine Stream: 'Hail, Caesar!' Doesn't Get the Credit It Deserves as a Great Coen Brothers Movie
(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: Hail, Caesar!
Where You Can Stream It: Netflix
The Pitch: In 1950s Hollywood, a studio fixer named Eddie Mannix must solve several crises around the lot, including the fact that a big star is kidnapped, a starlet finds herself pregnant, and a British director is furious that his comedy of manners has been saddled with a Western star who can’t shake his twangy accent to save his life.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: I remember lots of my colleagues being mixed about Hail, Caesar! when it was first released in 2016, but four years later, I still think this belongs in the top tier of the Coen Brothers’ storied filmography. That’s something of a controversial statement considering just how incredible the top tier of their work is (Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Raising Arizona, Inside Llewyn Davis, etc), but now is the perfect time to join me on the “Hail, Caesar! is great” side of the fence.
The film is clearly a love letter to this period of Hollywood history. But while the Coens and their collaborators perfectly captured the details of the period and were able to flawlessly recreate the style of cheesy westerns, Busby Berkeley-inspired choreography, biblical epics, and Gene Kelly-style musicals in the fake movies within this movie, Hail, Caesar! is ultimately a refutation of the nostalgia that infects so much of the way we can often think about that era. By making its fake movies purposefully kinda suck, the Coens are scuffing up some of the rosiness of the rose-colored glasses we sometimes put on when looking back in time.
Like many of the Coen Brothers’ movies, this one is bursting with religious themes and ideas, and its commentary on communism vs. capitalism (the fictional movie studio at the center of the story is called Capitol Pictures) is worth a second look. There are several layers of richness to peel if you’re willing to do the work, but if you’re not interested in engaging with Hail, Caesar! on that level, it also works wonderfully as simply one of their funniest films of the past decade. George Clooney is excellent playing another grade-A moron, but future Han Solo actor Alden Ehrenreich broke out in a big way as Hobie Doyle, the yokel who’s been cast in a fancy upper-crust drama but cannot hide his Southern drawl. The scene where he comes face to face with Ralph Fiennes’ snooty director character, Laurence Laurentz, is worth the price of admission alone.
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