Film Review: The Bitter Moral Center of “Hail! Caesar”
I always wanted to be a fan of the Coen brothers and their films. I’ve even seen quite a few of their films: “Fargo,” “True Grit” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?.” I enjoyed the films, but I never felt I could take the jump and say I was completely on the Coen caboose.
However, this all changed after I saw the brothers’ most recent film, “Hail! Caesar.”
This film tells the tale of Eddie Mannix and his exploits as a Hollywood executive. Josh Brolin plays the role as only he could, with a panache and ruggedness that doesn’t seem like it would work together, but somehow does. I expected this film to be hysterical and it was, but not in a laugh out loud funny way. This humor was aimed at a more thoughtful chuckle as a reaction.
At first glance, the film might seem like a simple time period piece about the majestic zeal of Hollywood in the 1950s. However, the film unravels as you get further into it. Communism comes out to play as well as religion, philosophy and ethics. This left my boyfriend to say, “Wow, that was so meta.” We then pondered the meaning of the word meta until we went crazy and started to develop a twitch every time we said the word.
The acting was one of the best and most interesting components of “Hail! Caesar.” The Coen brothers enlisted prolific actors of this generation to be in this film including George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Alden Ehrenreich, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Ralph Fiennes and Jonah Hill.
I thought it was very of “the body politic” of all the actors to be in this film, as the majority of them did not have huge parts. It would be very communist if not for Brolin, who was the actor with the most wealth of screen time.
I was newly impressed with many members of the cast. Who knew Channing Tatum could sing so beautifully? Who knew Scarlett Johansson could perfect the New York accent that is so unlike her real voice? Who knew that Jonah Hill could actually remain calm while his eyes met Johansson a few inches below her own eyes? I definitely foresee an ensemble cast award of some kind for this group of thespians.
“Hail! Caesar” was one of the most visually stunning films I have seen in a while. I almost forgot I was watching a movie with such deep religious, ethical and political undertones, and I was entranced by synchronized swimmers, effortlessly perfect dance numbers and mechanical whales.
The Coen brothers recreated the style of sound stages from 1950s Hollywood and it was at the same time nostalgic while still vivid and new. The audience was truly transported to this time period.
I can now saw that I am a fan of the Coen brothers. I am a fan of the bitter and unsatisfactory moral center of their most recent film.
Just like when the fallen Adam and Eve in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” try to bite into the delicious fruit and are left with ashes in their mouths, the audience is left with the unsettling taste of the moral of Mannix’s story. He is stuck in a dichotomous cycle of simultaneously loving his life and hating his life. He can do things to change it, but he never will. The priest will always be waiting in the confessional to hear why you kept on sinning.