Mar. 10th, 2016

Hail Coen!

Mar. 10th, 2016 05:55 pm
millionreasons: (photo)
I went to see Hail Caesar and loved it. I am a big fan of Coenema, although it felt that in recent years that there has been a bit of a dip in quality. Burn After Reading was dreadful, people may have loved No Country and their remake of True Grit, but I was not one of them. Joel and Ethan are good writers - why do cover versions? And I find the perennial interest in psychopaths just dull; although Billy Bob Thornton was great in the Coen-approved TV version of Fargo, a bumbling criminal - Ed Begley Jnr, Kirsten Dunst, or Tim from the Office - is always more interesting and indeed, fun. But I thought A Simple Man was great, and Inside Llewelyn Davies funny and awkward and loveable.

Hail Caesar goes back to the Coens' love of Hollywood, to the golden age, although this age is coming to an end as illustrated by the continual use of clocks, watches, time throughout the film: the age of the studio system is coming to an end. Unlike Barton Fink, which was at the Nathanael West end of writing about Hollywood, this is more a loving parody of comic Westerns, drawing room dramas, Biblical epics and water ballets.

The protagonist, studio fixer Eddie Mannix, was a real person but his biography differs from the character played by Josh Brolin. I wondered if they wanted Bryan Cranston for the role, but he was off doing the other Hollywood film about Communism. The reds under the beds Communist plot in this film is very silly, involving a group of guys, hanging out at the house from North by North West, trying to convince George Clooney (playing a Kirk Douglas/Charlton Heston-esque character in the titular film about a Roman centurion converted to Christianity when he witnesses Jesus), to convert to Communism.

Like A Single Man, Hail Caesar's theme is religion; early on, Mannix meets with three Christian ministers and one Jewish rabbi, who explain the nature of the Godhead to him, that God is split between God and the son.. The rabbi (played by the dad from Six Feet under but channelling Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm), explains that his is an angry God, although the Christian disagree. Mannix, a Catholic, goes to confession every day to confess tiny sins (smoking) and, in being a fixer for the studios, doing everything from stopping naughty photographs, to setting up starlets with wholesome young actors, to quashing gossip column rumours, carries the weight of the weight of the world, he shoulders all of the sins of the studio. He is both old and new testament God, literally smiting actors when they misbehave but forgiving, redeeming others. Clooney is supposed to gaze at the on-set Jesus in awe, but this is the way he looks at Mannix when the latter re-converts him back to Capitol Studios and capitalism. Clooney spends all of the film in a Roman tunic and armour (he certainly has the legs for it), gets kidnapped and held for ransom and the Coens drop another sneaky reference to their former work as the ransom money in a suitcase gets lost.

There are brilliant set pieces, most notably an amazing dance scene featuring Channing Tatum as a Gene Kelly-esque dancing sailor in a scene which quickly turns homoerotic and some Busby Berkeley-style synchronised swimming featuring Scarlett Johansson, who surprised me by doing some rather good acting. Scar-Jo even does an accent! Later, her story changes genre, turning noir as she sets up a deal with a surety agent to adopt her own illegitimate child.

There are fun little cameos and details (Commie Tatum's dog is called Engels) and I adored Alden Ehrenreich, who played Hobie, the innocent rodeo guy turned singing cowboy turned serious actor, who loved nothing more than spinning lassos with his spaghetti. The scene in which the Noel Coward-esque Ralph Fiennes tries to make him say "Would that it were so simple" in a mid-Atlantic rather than Wyoming accent had me in fits. Usually I think films should have a good twenty minutes cut out of them, this one I would have been happy for another thirty minutes to be put in.

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