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Bishops Castle Film Society

Hail Caesar - 6th Dec 2017

Coens, US, 2016, 116m

Films from the Coen Brothers have been distinguished by their unusual blend of violence and humour. Fargo (currently showing in its adapted form as a tv series on Channel 4) is perhaps the prime example. Hail Caesar is rather different: more humour and satire than violence (in fact, there is very little that is violent in the film). The film is both a tribute to and a critique of the Hollywood film industry. The story is set in the early 1950s, when the big studios were reacting to McCarthyite anti-communism by desperately attempting to expunge any lingering remnants of the left-wing ideologies that had influenced many films in the War and immediate post-War years. Hail Caesar – also the title of the ‘film within the film’ – is a typical example: an expensive epic with a star cast, as far removed from ‘politics’ as could be imagined. In fact, the making of the film is beset by politics in a number of ways, personal and public. The Coens have created an amusing look back at Hollywood values, using a cast of luminaries (George Clooney, Scarlett Johnasson, Josh Brolin, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton et al) and set piece scenes reminiscent of Gene Kelly, Ester Williams and Alfred Hitchcock films of former days. Josh Brolin as the central character, the studio’s ‘fixer’ Eddie Mannix, is outstanding.

"Brolin's performance is so tight, so controlled and so real, that he is able to carry that storyline with great vigor and compassion. The rest of the lunacy, from the underwater Ester Williams scenes, to the Gene Kelly dance spoof, to the cowboy (Ehrenreich absolutely adorable and on point) and Carmen Miranda get together, simply provides the backdrop. You don't need to know any of the Hollywood history to appreciate this film, other than to know that a good portion of movies, at that time, were not pot-boiling epics, or racy, foul-mouthed satires, but rather quiet movies about individual struggle. Brolin keeps that focus throughout this film, making the ending, just like the movies of the past, a very happy one … A very pleasant, clever, and funny effort from the Brothers. Yes, a send-off, Valentine, if you will. I can see where people who have enshrined Lebowski as the litmus test for all Coen comedy movies moving forward would be disappointed. Fact is, the Brothers can play more than one note." [Audience reviewer, IMDB]

"If this were anyone other than the Coens you might think that success and a couple of Oscars had mellowed them. Not likely. “Hail, Caesar!” is one of those diversions that they turn out in between masterworks and duds. It’s a typically sly, off-center comedy, once again set against the machinery of the motion-picture business. And, as usual with the Coens, it has more going on than there might seem, including in its wrangling over God and ideology, art and entertainment. Some of it is familiar and satisfyingly funny, even if there are laughs and bits that seem as if they were written to amuse only the Coens and the Turner Classic Movies crowd." [Manohla Dargis, New York Times, 4.2.2016]



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