Four-time Oscar-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men, True Grit, Fargo) write and direct Hail, Caesar!, an all-star comedy set during the latter years of Hollywood's Golden Age. Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum, Hail, Caesar! follows a single day in the life of a studio fixer who is presented with plenty of problems to fix.
Where does one start with the latest Coen brothers movie? ‘Hail, Caesar!’ is a joyfully over-the-top romp through the Golden Age of Hollywood. It’s a hardboiled noir and a light-hearted farce, all mixed together in the same delightful pot. It’s so decidedly a Coen film, and yet it feels fresh.
The film is an
is anironic lambasting of Hollywood’s behind-the-scenes circus, and a thoughtful love letter to the movies. We watch as studio executive Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) stomps around the lot putting out proverbial fires. There’s an actress’s pregnancy he has to hide; an awkward Western actor he has to make into a suave movie star; identical twin gossip columnists badgering him for a scoop; and oh, his biggest star has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom.
The kidnapping is the storyline the trailers highlight, but it’s hardly the main focus of the film. As with so many Coen brothers’ films, it’s immune from trailers spoiling the fun. That’s because so much is packed into the film that matters so much more than one subplot.
While George Clooney headlines as the airheaded movie star Baird Whitlock, the real story is about how Mannix swoops in and takes care of the seemingly endless amount of insanity generated by making movies in Hollywood.
In one scene, Mannix calls together four religious leaders in order to get their take on the new movie he’s making. The movie will depict Jesus, but Mannix doesn’t want to offend anyone. The resulting conversation between the four leaders is one of the most cleverly written observations about religion I’ve ever heard in a movie. It also happens to be the funniest.
It’s clear that the Coen brothers are having a ball here. They enjoy putting on a show and then drawing the camera back to reveal the façade. Expertly choreographed synchronized swimming performances are cut short because of a tight-fitting mermaid tail. Lengthy song-and-dance numbers are wonderfully shot, skillfully performed, and then sent to be done over because of an errant choice on an actor’s part. Lives of actors and actresses are carefully manipulated behind the scenes for the best possible public impact.
It’s obvious that the Coen brothers love every single one of these characters, but they don’t mind swinging them around like rag dolls and holding them up as examples of Hollywood’s fakery.
The humor here most notably mirrors the Coen classic, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Everyone involved is delightfully hamming it up for the camera. Especially Clooney, who goes bug-eyed as many times as he did playing dopey ol’ Everett. All that extra cheese only ends up providing a lovable teddy bear quality to the whole thing.
Then there’s the mystery element that borrows ever so slightly from “Fargo.” The similarities are in the esoteric musical score as shadowy cars drive up to a mysterious modern home overlooking a black ocean. It’s majestic how seamlessly the screenplay switches from noir to comedy on a dime without missing a beat.
Yet, beneath the hilarious comedy, beneath the ‘50s-style suspense, beneath the wonderful ensemble, beneath all that lies a serious question: Is it worth doing the hard things, if the easy things are, well, easy?
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a 2-disc set. A 50GB Blu-ray is accompanied by a DVD, and a code for an iTunes or UltraViolet Digital Copy. A slipcover is also provided. There is a forced anti-smoking commercial before the menu that is frustrating and annoying, not to mention the other trailers that proceed after it.
Universal’s 1080p transfer of ‘Hail, Caesar!’ mirrors the wonderful, period-piece look that was shown during the movie’s theatrical run. It’s got a bit softer feel, but that can be chalked up to the gauzy look many period films are given. Even with the intentional softness, this transfer boasts strong detailing, bold colors, and lush visuals.
The Coens have filled this movie with color and it bursts forth on this presentation. From Johansson’s bright green mermaid costume to the gold trappings of ancient Rome movie sets, this movie has everything. It runs the color gamut and never tires of showing off its plumage. Blacks are sturdy. The night scenes still provide ample detail for objects, faces, and textures.
Close-ups provide endless amounts of fine detail: facial hair, smile lines, pores, and all that stuff you expect to see. Mid-range shots are equally glorious. Some of the early shots depicting Roman armies marching back to Rom have a real epic feel and look to them. There are no anomalies to be concerned with. Even though ‘Hail, Caesar!’ comes across as a light-hearted comedy it’s shot immaculately well and this Blu-ray release gives it a chance to really show of its wares.
I was impressed with the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. The movie is dialogue heavy, so much of the action is centered up front. Voices are crisp, whispers are easily heard. It’s a standard 5.1 mix, but it does everything it should do, and just a little more.
Surround channels are lively with bustling movie set sounds, busy restaurants, and even the encompassing sound of a submarine surfacing. The low-end spectrum has a few moments to shine too. Bass is heavy and clear during the aforementioned submarine surfacing, and it’s also present during many of the soundtrack’s more foreboding instrumentals.
There are some great panning effects too. During the Tatum’s song-and-dance number, the sound smoothly transfers from one side to the other depending on where the action is moving to. This is one of the best sounding scenes of the movie and this mix doesn’t disappoint.
Directing Hollywood (HD 4 min.) – Short promo featurette where everyone backslaps themselves and the cast talks about how great the Coens are.
The Stars Align (HD, 12 min.) – Some brief behind-the-scenes stuff along with interviews, and plot overview.
An Era of Glamour (HD, 6 min.) – Focuses on the time period of the movie and the production and costume design it required.
Magic of a Bygone Era (HD, 6 min.) – Cast and crew talk about the time period fondly, and discuss ‘50s Hollywood.
As 2016 stands, ‘Hail, Caesar!’ is still my favorite film of the year. It even gets better with multiple viewings. Not only is it quotable, but it’s hilarious to boot. That and the Coen Brothers are just fantastic directors who know how to craft a movie and how to shoot it. This release has some very strong audio and video elements too. This one is highly recommended.