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Categories: Movie Reviews

The Coen Brothers’ latest film may not be their best, but it’s as inventive and entertaining as expected. 

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The Coen brothers are well-known for their unique and recognizable vision consisting of a wide variety of cinematic genres and conventions. Their films, such as The Big Lebowski and Barton Fink, blur the boundaries between reality and oneiric states of mind, ranging from lighthearted comedies to philosophical dramas. Mainly known for their dark and often surreal sense of humour, Joel and Ethan Coen manifest their take on the Classical Hollywood era in a new comedy – Hail, Caesar! starring Josh Brolin, Alden Ehrenreich, George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton and Scarlett Johansson, among many other big names. [Some minor plot spoilers ahead]

The movie takes us to a 1951 film studio, Capitol Pictures, only three years after the Paramount decree, which has forever transformed the movie production system and redistributed studios’ power. The main story rotates around Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), the head of the studio who has to deal with the kidnapping of one of the actors, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), who’s the lead in an unfinished movie. Similarly to the protagonist of The Big Lebowski, Eddie is preoccupied with other events happening throughout the film, thus directing us towards subplots and secondary characters. Simultaneously, Whitlock finds out that he has been kidnapped by a group of communist writers, who oppose their unjust treatment by the studios and aim to convince Whitlock to support their struggle. 

Hail, Caesar! could be considered an homage to the Classical Hollywood cinema: the Coen brothers organically merge different genres and filming styles, resulting in certain visual and storytelling innovations. This is particularly expressed in the heavily-stylized sequences of the film shoots at the studio, ranging from Wayne-type westerns to carefully-choreographed musicals about queer sailors or mermaids. A personal and intense passion for the classical cinema is evident: the cinema culture of the time is treated with care and respect, rather than being portrayed from a purely satirical perspective.

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Usually, when Coen brothers are mentioned, one of the fist things that come to mind is atmospheric mise-en scène. The distinct comedic look is often achieved by the extensive use of wide-angle lens and carefully-framed shots. Their most recent film carries on the conventions set by their body of work, including intentionally-composed symmetry, a frequent use of the rule of thirds, and occasional Dutch tilts.

As expected from the Coens’ movies, acting choices and directions are extremely important for maintaining their surreal and often satirical mood. Alden Ehrenreich’s character, who tries out a new role in Laurence Laurentz’ (Ralph Fiennes) film, is very engaging and entertaining, immediately creating a sense of sympathy. Clooney, eventually giving in to the communist ideology, also brings a lot of humour to the story, as do most of the actors in the film.

As a result Hail, Caesar! is not the Coen brothers’ best film, although it does do its job well. It is an easy-to-watch comedy, which frequently references the social context of the late 1940s and early 1950s but does so in a jokingly playful manner, which leaves a pleasant aftertaste of nostalgia and positivity after the viewing.

Hail, Caesar! is out now in UK cinemas.

After recently graduating from the University of Brighton, I am currently doing an MA Film Studies course at UCL. I am very passionate about cinema and have directed a few short films and a feature, which is currently being screened at various festivals. Above all, I am keen on experimental arts, such as avant-garde or minimalist music and underground film.

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Posted on Mar 7, 2016

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