THE MOVIE GUY: ‘Hail, Caesar’ is a love letter to old Hollywood

Published 12:19 am Friday, February 5, 2016

Joel and Ethan Coen’s new film, “Hail Caesar” is a love letter to the golden age of Hollywood filmmaking. It is a superb cinematic re-creation of the old studio system that will thrill fans of that bygone era. It is also a bit of a screwball comedy, although much of the humor fails to generate genuine laughs.

The result is a film that is amusing, filled with fun cameos and gorgeous to watch, but it’s not quite the superb movie we were hoping that the Coen Brothers would deliver.

Josh Brolin stars as Eddie Mannix, a Hollywood fixer who spends his days getting temperamental actors out of jams. Mannix is a man who loves making movies, but he is weary of spending his days dealing with one crisis after another. He has one star (Scarlett Johansson) whose out of wedlock pregnancy is starting to show and a cowboy actor (Alden Ehrenreich) who has been seriously miscast in a genteel drawing room melodrama. The major crisis involves the studio’s biggest star (George Clooney) who has been kidnapped by a cabal of disgruntled communist writers.

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On top of all of this, Mannix has to deal with a pair of gossip columnists (both played by Tilda Swinton) and a group of petty clergymen who are offering script notes on the studio’s latest Biblical epic. It all adds up to a delightful tale of non-stop comic mayhem.

The film was shot on a several actual studio lots, so the production design is spot on. Throw in some great costumes and you have a film that looks like it might have been shot in the 1950s.

The same holds true for the actors, who are having a ball playing characters that come straight out of old Hollywood.

In many cases they are based on real life stars and there are plenty of insider winks for those familiar with Hollywood history. I particularly loved watching Channing Tatum channel Gene Kelly and Alden Ehrenreich is a hoot playing the dumb cowboy trying to sound like a sophisticated society man.

Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand also have some memorable moments.

Indeed, the only thing that truly falls flat is the kidnapping subplot, which is a shame given how prominently Clooney is featured in all of the marketing.

“Hail, Caesar” doesn’t have a lot of substance, but it’s still an amusing bit of stylistic fluff. The actors are having a ball and their enthusiasm shines through the otherwise inconsequential story.

The film isn’t quite funny enough to be considered a triumph, but fans of post-war Hollywood should love this loving tribute/satire of old Hollywood.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email