Let me just start by saying that I adore the Brothers Coen. Nobody does dark comedy better than they do. (Even their lightest fare tends to include a bit of murder, mayhem, or — at the very least — accidental suicide.) But Hail, Caesar! is a different story. For filmmakers who have spent the past 32 years defying convention, it still seems like a curve ball: It’s not hilarious. There’s no action. It has a full, homoerotic song-and-dance number involving a bar full of sailors. Nobody dies.
But if you’ve been paying really close attention to the writer/directors’ themes over the past 32 years — morality, mortality, etc. — you might be able to enjoy this excessively talky, but ultimately uplifting religious/political satire as well. Just don’t expect another Big Lebowski or O Brother, Where Art Thou? Think more along the lines of Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, or A Serious Man.
Hail, Caesar! opens with a somber shot of Jesus on the cross, followed by a scene in which Josh Brolin’s character — the PR manager of a major Hollywood studio in the 1930s — confesses his trivial sins to a rather bored priest. Shortly after that, the Hollywood PR manager assembles a priest, a rabbi, and an imam around a table to discuss the studio’s latest effort to portray the “Godhead,” or divine images of the “Christ.” A brilliant, rapid-fire “Who’s on First?”-type conversation ensues, and this kind of toying with religious orthodoxy more-or-less sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Unfortunately, Hail, Caesar! was billed as a straight-up comedy — with images of George Clooney making funny faces, etc. But the truth is that it’s more of a light drama with a few chuckles included. At it’s core, I suspect that the movie is about the choices we make as humans, how they shape who we are, and how who we are, in turn, affects society. How do we know if we’re doing the right thing? the filmmakers seem to be asking. It’s the “lightest” flick that the Coens have ever made (e.g., what the viewer thinks are silenced gunshots turn out to be flashbulbs in a camera just a moment later). Hail, Caesar! also appears to serve as a sort of half-veiled vindication of what the Coen brothers have been doing for the past several decades: making movies for the masses.
I’m quite happy to disagree with most critics on this one. Hail, Caesar! is a strangely refreshing, offbeat gem.
Four pot leafs out of five: