By Kathryn Whitney Boole
In their unique style of filmmaking, the Coen brothers tend to create an imaginary satirical milieu. Then they take you on an “It’s a Small World”-type ride through this whimsical land and during the journey you uncover knowledge and understanding of a time and place probably unfamiliar to you. You can stand back and have a good laugh at the craziness of that world and the antics of the colorful characters that inhabit it.
“Hail Caesar!” is a send-up of the “big studio” movie industry of the ’50s and ’60s.
Among the eccentrics that grace this story are George Clooney as movie star “Baird Whitlock” a Heston/Douglas/ Brando/ Burton type, who, when not in front of the camera, looks excruciatingly awkward, though trying desperately to appear noble — throughout the movie Clooney is clad in an uncomfortable Roman soldier’s skirt with a long sword. Channing Tatum is stellar as “Burt Gurney,” a hilarious over-dramatic reinvention of Burt Lancaster and Gene Kelly — note that Tatum’s musical theater skills are impressive. Tilda Swinton is wonderful as twin British gossip columnists – a composite of Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper. Scarlett Johansson is a flamboyant reincarnation of Esther Williams with an unexpectedly earthy off-screen personality. Joseph Fiennes echoes Laurence Olivier as frustrated director Laurence Laurentz. The most brilliant performance is that of Alden Ehrenreich who plays “Hobie Doyle”, a singing cowboy with an astonishing repertoire of roping and equestrian tricks. In his anguished quest to become a serious actor, “Hobie” renders himself more and more hilarious. His scene with “Laurentz” is one of the funniest in the film. The one real character in the movie is “Eddie Mannix” played by Josh Brolin. Eddie Mannix was in fact a real studio “fixer” of the time, his job being to see that the mishaps of the big stars stayed out of the press. Needless to say, it was a somewhat thankless job.
There exists a deeper level of philosophical questioning in each Coen brothers film, if you look hard enough. This film may leave you wondering: Where does religion end and political ideology begin? Or … how much did the big movie industry of the time reflect how people saw their own lives?
The Coen brothers are one of the best filmmaking teams working today. Their movies provide a platform for laughter and enjoyment, for seeing through all the pretenses we develop to keep our dignity. I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the set of a Coen brothers shoot in 2003. Our longtime STG client, the late great Irwin Keyes, was filming a scene as “Wheezy Joe” in “Intolerable Cruelty.” It was a night shoot — the atmosphere composed, organized, efficient, and calm. We were invited to sit down and talk with the cast and crew at dinner. Most of them worked consistently with the Coens. Members of the crew are treated with the same respect as is given the stars. The brothers bring out the best in their team because they make them feel like family.
Rated PG-13. 106 minutes.
Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For previously published reviews, see https://kwboole.wordpress.com.