Look back at the Golden Age of Hollywood. Remember the glitz, glamour and beautiful sheen of those classic films of the 1950s? Yeah, now imagine all of the terrible things that must have gone on under the surface. It's not very pretty, right? It certainly isn't. But it is oh-so-absolutely wild and terrifically funny.
But the drama doesn't end there. Mannix is also attempting to manage the studio's slightly wild and acerbic mermaid musical star, DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johannson), who has just recently discovered that she's pregnant out of wedlock. Not to mention the trouble with Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), the Western star who the studio is attempting to shift into more serious fare, much to the chagrin of acclaimed director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). And as the icing on the cake, Mannix is forced to deal with the sleazy tabloid journalists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton), who are both desperate to dig up dirt on the underbelly of the studio. But as all of this is going on, Mannix is forced to contemplate a different question- should he stay with the studio or move on to a more respectable position. The answer isn't necessarily clear. Would that it were so simple.
What you will find if you make the wise move to see Hail, Caesar! is a gonzo comedy that cuts to the seedy heart of Hollywood with hilarity and smarts, accompanied by some spectacular scenes and a cast that is pure dynamite. No, there isn't much of a plot. It's a lot of threads loosely connected by the character of Eddie Mannix. In many ways, its looping, circular structure is similar to the Coens' masterful Inside Llewyn Davis, another film praised by critics and unfairly maligned by audiences. You won't find complicated story mechanics, but you will find a stinging and droll mockery of the film business that had me in stitches. It's pure, unadulterated popcorn entertainment written and directed in a way that only the Coens could control.
Brolin's Mannix is the connective tissue that carries the whole movie, but there are plenty of other actors that play their part, including one who may have broken out in a big way. George Clooney isn't as unhinged as the marketing promised- he delivers fully cohesive sentences and funny bits of dialogue. But he has some memorable scenes and the final speech is a wonderfully staged comedic moment. And it only gets better from there. Scarlett Johannson is appropriately caustic and salty as the popular movie star with a New Jersey dialect, carrying a few great scenes to their full potential. Channing Tatum is hilariously overdone as Burt and the "No Dames" musical number is an early favorite for scene of the year. Ralph Fiennes is stupendous as usual. Tilda Swinton steals scenes as the competing twin reporters. Frances McDormand and Jonah Hill have amazing cameos. Seriously, this movie has it all.
Despite how truly wonderful this whole cast is, it all goes back to Joel and Ethan Coen. They're masters of the elements of film, combining old-fashioned showmanship with a wittiness and incisive bite that is often imitated, but never quite as good. Carter Burwell's score and Roger Deakins' cinematography are both mesmerizing, with the production and costume design working as the icing on the cake. The movie-within-a-movie sequences are filmed with love and care, showing how much the Coens respect and understand the value and appeal of that entertainment from a lost age.
Hail, Caesar! is another masterwork of comedy and cinema from two of the greatest directors working in the medium today. Raucous and bubbly, always hysterical, and constantly upping the ante of the comedy, I loved every single minute of this film. Some have dismissed Hail, Caesar! as been a light and unimportant little film that doesn't match up to the Coens' previous work. I disagree. In the guise of a screwball laugh-fest, you'll find a reflection of the madness of Hollywood that is based largely on the history of the industry that we all know and love. Is it as weighty as some of their other fare that examines serious human problems? No, it probably isn't. But does that really matter? Not in the slightest. I walked away from the 27 hour journey of Hail, Caesar! refreshed, invigorated and excited. That's something that very few movies accomplish, and yet, Hail, Caesar! does it with a stylish ease. It's the first instant classic of 2016.
THE FINAL GRADE: A (9.5/10)