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HAIL, CAESAR! (director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; cinematographer: Roger Deakins; editor: Roderick Jaynes; music: Carter Burwell; cast: Josh Brolin (Eddie Mannix), George Clooney (Baird Whitlock), Alden Ehrenreich (Hobie Doyle), Ralph Fiennes (Laurence Laurentz), Jonah Hill (Joseph Silverman), Scarlett Johansson (DeeAnna Moran), Frances McDormand (C. C. Calhoun), Tilda Swinton (Thora Thacker / Thessaly Thacker), Channing Tatum (Burt Gurney), Ian Blackman (Cuddahy), Heather Goldenhersh (Natalie (secretary), Veronica Osorio (Carlotta Valdez), Alison Pill (Mrs. Mannix), Michael Gambon (Narrator); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; Universal release; 2016)
“Has some sparkle as it reaches for a happy ending.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A spirited nostalgic love letter to Hollywood period comedy that’s directed, written and produced by the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan (“Trlife of ue Grit”/”Burn After Reading”/”A Serious Man“). The brothers have come up with a jokey film about the Hollywood studio system in the 1950s, during its Golden Age. The idea is to both praise the studio system while at the same time to mock it. It’s hilarious in spurts. The film has an unseen serious-voiced narrator Michael Gambon) throughout. It centers around two days in the life of the middle-aged, family man, workaholic, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), the real-life studio executive, known as the “fixer” for MGM-in the film called Capital Pictures. Eddie’s job is to stop bad publicity for the stars, take care of their problems that might go public and make sure things are working on the set. As a regular church confessor, Eddie confesses about secretly smoking against his wife’s wishes.

There are several different films being made on the lot, but the main film is the big budget prestigious crucifixion epic. Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is its dimwitted star, who plays a Kirk Douglas-like role, who tops the pic off with a climactic sincere speech on how he was so moved about meeting Jesus and delivers it while the martyr is on the cross. Whitlock is always in uniform as a Roman aristocrat soldier. He also gets drugged and kidnapped by a secret study group of communist writers, who hold him for ransom from the studio. In the other films, they range from musicals to dramas. Scarlett Johansson plays like Esther Williams (but with a mouth like a slut) in her musical swimming-ballet films. Channing Tatum makes like Gene Kelly, playing a sailor on leave singing and dancing with his mates on barroom tables. Ralph Fiennes plays a sophisticated European director of drawing room dramas, who has a few slimy secrets. Tilda Swinton has a romp playing both sister reporters, both emulating Hedda Hopper, who care only about getting scoops and the dirt on the stars. The most surprising star was the likable rope-twirling cowboy Alden Ehrenreich, who is at a loss when suddenly given a starring role in a drawing room drama but makes the best of it by being so agreeable.

The film has a good pace, the dialogue is pleasantly quirky and it is entertaining. Never reaching Coen brother heights, it nevertheless has some sparkle as it reaches for a happy ending.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”