Movie review: Hail, Caesar!

What is it about kidnapping that the Coens embrace so readily?

hail-caesarI went with a couple of friends to the Spectrum Theatre on a Sunday afternoon to see the new Coen brothers movie Hail, Caesar!.

It “follows a day in the life of Eddie Mannix [Josh Brolin], a Hollywood fixer for Capitol Pictures in the 1950s, who cleans up and solves problems for big names and stars in the industry. But when studio star Baird Whitlock [George Clooney] disappears, Mannix has to deal with more than just the fix.”

When it was over, I smiled knowingly. I laughed a lot and thought it was a smart picture with nifty references to a Hollywood of a different era. But my two companions were confused! One said, “What did it MEAN?” And judging by the amazingly bad audience reaction on Rotten Tomatoes – only 45% positive, though 82% of the critics liked it – they were not alone.

A lot of the complaints I’ve read were that other films touched on the specifics of movie making better than Hail, Caesar! That may be true, but I enjoyed this particular iteration. As the review from NPR noted:

“Some of the best scenes hail from the films within the film. The best of these is No Dames!, a sailors-on-shore-leave musical starring Bert Gurney (Channing Tatum, who is really a pretty good dancer. Who knew?). This long segment is… [one of] the most delightful production number in a major motion picture… It’ll also make you miss the days long before the Age of Ultron, when movie titles had exclamation points instead of colons.

“Hail, Caesar!’s… pleasures are piecemeal and peculiar, like the way Sir Michael Gambon, the film’s narrator, elongates the phrase “in Westerly Malibu.” Or the way Tilda Swinton plays a pair of identical — and fiercely competitive — twin gossip columnists. Or the way that a workprint of Hail, Caesar! includes a title card reading DIVINE PRESENCE TO BE SHOT.”

Also great was Alden Ehrenreich, previously unknown to me, as Hobie Doyle, a western film star out of his element in a different genre film; Ralph Fiennes as movie director Laurence Laurentz; and Scarlett Johansson as an Esther Williams-type aquatic performer. Frances McDormand and Jonah Hill had small roles as a film editor and a “person.”

Two questions:

What is it about a kidnapping that the Coens embrace so readily, in Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, and Fargo?

Does one need to be a cinephile to enjoy Hail, Caesar!? I would not think so, but I could be wrong.

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