Coen brothers create another classic with ‘Hail, Caesar!’

Anne Pritikin

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One movie-star kidnapping, two scandal-hungry gossip columnists, three late-night confessions, four spiritual consultants, five films in production, six communist writers and a one hundred thousand dollar ransom. The Coen brothers’ newest movie “Hail, Caesar!” effortlessly combines these spectacles and more in a dazzling, technicolor, cynical ode to Hollywood’s Golden Age. Equipped with a star-studded cast, the plot parallels characters’ lives and pays homage to actors of the period.

Scarlett Johansson plays DeeAnna Moran in a razzle-dazzle aqautic scene.

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), whose character is very loosely based off of a real former film executive and all-around Hollywood problem-solver with the same name, acts as the common thread that sews together the various dramas he must manage. The movie is structured more as a day in the life of Mannix and his tribulations than as a story with a linear plot. However, the film does focus on the disappearance of pea-brained Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the star of the biblical movie “Hail Caesar: A Tale of the Christ,” which is one of the five films currently being produced by Capitol, the film studio that Mannix manages. Clooney’s character is a refreshing change from past roles that he has taken on and his comedic timing is impeccable throughout the film.

“Hail, Caesar!” cleverly invokes the cinema’s Golden Age nostalgia with exaggerated pastels, incredible sets, film noir cinematography and narration while maintaining signature Coen brother humor with iconoclastic jabs at religion, politics and the studio system.

The cast is perfection, as most characters in the movie are a sensationalized form of Hollywood’s Golden Age personalities. Scarlett Johansson channels Esther Williams as DeeAnna Moran in a razzle-dazzle aquatic scene, but once the cameras are off, her hard interior overtakes her faux cheery exterior and she dials up the tackiness. Tilda Swinton plays twin shrewish gossip columnists, Thora and Thessaly Thacker, likened to Hedda Hopper, who are constantly scandal-mongering at the studio. Gene Kelly’s remake is Channing Tatum as Burt Gurney, who plays a girl-hungry sailor on shore-leave in a fantastic dance sequence with ironic homo-erotic flourishes.

Delivering an entertaining dance sequence, Channing Tatum starts as Burt Gurney in the Coen brothers' new quirky comedy film.

Delivering an entertaining dance sequence, Channing Tatum starts as Burt Gurney in the Coen brothers’ new quirky comedy film.

Among the bizarre characters is Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), a loyal ally to Mannix, who, before proving himself to be a genuine hero, was little more than a charmingly naive former cowboy turned actor.

After finishing a Western featuring trick riding, incompetent actor Doyle is hired to act in an elegant drama “Merrily We Dance,” much to the irritation of director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), a caricature of Vincente Minnelli. A particularly hilarious scene occurs when Laurentz attempts to fix Doyle’s Western drawl, who is as weak an actor in the drama as Ehrenreich is as strong in real life.

Between Mannix’s late-night confessions to a seemingly all-hours priest, the film follows the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Baird and Mannix’s search for his big-budget, leading actor while he keeps the studio running.

Simultaneously, a subplot unravels as Mannix is offered a job at a military aircraft firm. Now Mannix has to decide between his bittersweet relationship with the film-making industry and a dull, but stable profession with reasonable hours.

Stunning to watch and perfectly executed, “Hail, Caesar!” entertainingly examines the beauty and the blemishes of the film industry. The movies produced paint a picture of perfect lives, but behind that gleaming, golden facade lies a very different type of reality in which on-screen images must be maintained off screen for the sake of audience satisfaction.