Hail, Caesar! (US-UK 2016)

Alden Ehrenreich as singing cowboy Hobie Doyle cast in a 'sophisticated' comedy directed by Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). This is one of the standout scenes of Hail, Caesar!

Alden Ehrenreich as singing cowboy Hobie Doyle cast in a ‘sophisticated’ comedy directed by Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). This is one of the standout scenes of Hail, Caesar!

Following Keith’s advice,  I watched Hail, Caesar! in Bradford’s Pictureville Cinema in 4K. It certainly looked good – but whether I would have noticed any difference if it was a 2K print is something I feel unable to judge. Anyway, the film proved an enjoyable distraction for a couple of hours. But, I’m not sure if it was a film that added up to more than its parts.

As the promotional material suggested, the Coen Brothers expertly create the Hollywood studio environment of the early 1950s in loving detail. Strangely, there are some basic mistakes if the setting is supposed to be 1951 as some publicity suggested. (The worst error concerns screen shapes and aspect ratios – a Western is shown in a cinema with a credit for VistaVision which Paramount didn’t use until 1954 and White Christmas.) On the whole, however, taken as an amalgam of Hollywood practices, ‘Capital Pictures’, the studio in the film, represents the period from roughly 1949 to 1953 very well. As several reviewers suggest, the Coens are not really interested in a plot as such, but more in the vignettes of production of different kinds of films and the way in which studio practices are changing – or not.

The two plotlines of note involve the studio ‘fixer’ based on the real Eddie Mannix who worked at MGM. We see him trying to repress gossip stories about the studio’s stars, grapple with his own family and work situation – and find a missing star played by George Clooney in ‘doofus’ mode. None of this adds up to much but does allow the Coens to play with ideas about the US Communist Party, religious sensitivity towards films and the ethics of the military-industrial complex. There are terrific set pieces including a Channing Tatum dance sequence riffing on Gene Kelly and Alden Ehrenreich as a Roy Rogers/Gene Autry ‘singing cowboy’ who for many viewers no doubt steals the picture. There are also two scenes featuring delicious Jewish jokes/characterisations. And yet . . . the film has not attracted huge audiences. It might be that fans will return for repeat viewings but somehow the Coens don’t quite get the excellent parts (performances, sets, cinematography, music etc.) to make something whole. For me, the last really funny Coen Brothers film was O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). I’d rate the ‘serious’ films as better value, with both Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) and A Serious Man (2009) as effective recent titles.

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One comment

  1. keith1942

    Roy is right about the oddities, especially the aspect ratios. I went away and checked it really was supposed to be 1951. And the treatment of the blacklisted writers and the Communist Party USA is witty but also bizarre. Trumbo, whatever its limitations, is closer to the mark.
    The production values are excellent, especially the cinematography by Roger Deakins. And Carter Burwell’s music is good. I thought the musical number also included pastiches of Fred Astaire as well as Kelly: perhaps the film includes to many ‘homages’.
    I saw it in Pictureville and I thought that the 4K format gave better value for contrast and colour tones.

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