Hail, Caesar! (a short study)
2016 ‧ Mystery/Drama film ‧ 1h 46m ‧ dir. Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
The Timelessness of Film and Greed - Charlotte Haley (FR)
Colourful, chaotic…the Coen brother’s most recent triumph is an exposé of the Hollywood golden age, detailing a day in the life of studio executive and ‘fixer’, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), head of physical production at Capitol Pictures. Set in the early 1950s, the story centres on the creation of the titular film, Hail, Caesar!, a Roman epic on the coming of Christ. The star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), is drugged while on set and kidnapped, only to be ransomed for $100,000 by his captors, a Communist cell. This plot-line continues intermittently throughout the film, hilariously interrupted by short, sketch-like episodes that highlight the necessity of Mannix’s job. Maintaining the integrity of a studio and its actors was vital to the continued funding of the industry, increasingly threatened by the popularity of television - Brolin’s daily grind poses the question of what the film industry is about, and whether it can survive in a changing world. The interleaving of scenes both concerned with, and separate from, Whitlock’s capture are symptomatic of a film without a strong plot-line, suggesting that the Coen brothers would have benefitted from fewer comical scenes. Yet, these comical scenes are vital for the central message of the film: Channing Tatum’s dance scene, Scarlett Johansson’s smiling synchronised swimmer, Alden Ehrenreich’s loveable cowboy - all embody the sparkling falsity of 1950s Hollywood. Hail, Caesar! captures the artificial qualities of these films through its costume design and cinematography, making it visually captivating while also paying homage to early technicolour films.
Thus, Mannix’s worries about the ephemerality of the film industry seem feasible: deception and short-term solutions abound in both personal and professional situations, making for seemingly unsustainable business. This may be the largest irony of the film. Hail, Caesar! comes in the height of cinematic consumerism, with big-budget blockbusters rewarded financially with larger income than independent films, no matter the quality of said films (see Batman v. Superman’s obscene profit). Not only does the audience recognise the foolishness of Mannix’s fears for film, sitting in a cinema 60 years after the film is set, they also see that the fundamental qualities of the film industry has not changed. As pointed out by the Coens’ caricatured communists, Hollywood films are built on the backs of the underpaid and overworked, an exclusive system that is as amoral as it is superficial. While this may beg the question of why the Coen brothers would make a film that highlights the flaws in the system they inhabit, the joy and hilarity encapsulated in Hail, Caesar! is perhaps the reason for their prolonged film-making careers. Colourful, chaotic and capitalist, the film’s presentation of Capitol Pictures is intended to accurately portray 1950s Hollywood, while also linking it to the modern film industry - as frivolous and greedy as Mannix’s, but not, yet, as romanticised.
Charlotte Haley - 2016 Film Representative @ FAFF