From the gray, cloudy mood of 1960’s New York City to the golden, sunny skies of 1950’s Hollywood, Joel and Ethan Coen followed up their 2013 folk-drama Inside Llewyn Davis with the brighter color palette and lighter tone of Hail, Caesar!
The Coen brothers’ latest ensemble comedy revolves around the disappearance of actor Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) in the midst of a film shoot, and the studio exec, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), who has to save him from a group of kidnappers calling itself The Future. An ode to Old Hollywood as much as it is moviemaking itself, Hail, Caesar! extends beyond just Baird’s kidnapping, which like Bunny Lebowski’s abduction, is just the film’s MacGuffin to get the ball rolling.
Hail, Caesar! sees the return of a number of Coen brothers favorites, but also introduces some new stars to the troupe, including Alden Ehrenreich, who plays a scene-stealing singing cowboy, and Channing Tatum (whose tap dance number appears to be a film highlight).
The last time the duo directed a prominently comedic film was 2008’s Burn After Reading, but while the brothers have been producing a string of dramas recently, their The Big Lebowski still reigns as one of their most beloved films. So is Joel and Ethan’s return to outright comedy on par with the Dude?
In her B+ review of the film, EW’s Leah Greenblatt said Hail, Caesar! is “Coen lite, basically, but still filled with their best signatures: cracked humor, indelible characters, and cinematography so rich and saturated you want to dunk a cookie in it.”
For more from Greenblatt’s review, and a collection of critics’ takes on the film from around the country, scroll below.
Leah Greenblatt (Entertainment Weekly)
“There are at least five movies set inside Caesar! — including a sublimely silly song-and-dance number starring Channing Tatum as a tap-shoed sailor — and each one from sword-and-sandal epics to costume melodramas and hokey Westerns, gets a note-perfect tribute. It’s all too winky and meta to amount to much in the end, but it’s also too fun to care.”
Manohla Dargis (The New York Times)
“Hail, Caesar! is one of those diversions that they turn out in between masterworks and duds. It’s a typically sly, off-center comedy, once again set against the machinery of the motion-picture business. And, as usual with the Coens, it has more going on than there might seem, including in its wrangling over God and ideology, art and entertainment. Some of it is familiar and satisfyingly funny, even if there are laughs and bits that seem as if they were written to amuse only the Coens and the Turner Classic Movies crowd. “
Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)
“Right off the bat, it’s clear that from a comedy perspective, something’s misfiring; the confession opening isn’t funny, the Roman saga feels a little off and Mannix is an entirely serious guy. Even a scene in which he solicits script comments from religious leaders of every faith about Hail, Caesar! isn’t terribly humorous.”
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (The AV Club)
“The same aversion to classical form that’s produced the filmmakers’ most ingenious shifts and denials of closure turns Hail, Caesar! into a grab-bag of ideas in various stages of formation, full of dead ends and seemingly pointless sequences, peppered with out-of-nowhere narration by Michael Gambon. Somewhere in there are stretches of the Coens’ funniest comedy since The Big Lebowski; it just takes a little patience.”
Mike Ryan (Uproxx)
“Hail, Caesar! is almost a more whimsical companion piece to the Coens’ 2013 masterpiece, Inside Llewyn Davis — only this time, instead of folk music, it’s about the golden age of film. Instead of “Please Mister Kennedy,” we get Channing Tatum’s Burt Gurney performing a showstopper of a dance number that will have people talking about it probably until our nearest star expands and engulfs the Earth in flames. Instead of Al Cody’s album Five & Twenty Questions, we get Cowboy movie star Hobie Doyle’s Lazy Ol’ Moon.”
Justin Chang (Variety)
“Their craft seemingly honed to an even sharper point of perfectionism and clarity than usual, the Coens delight in laying bare the nuts and bolts of the process, whether they’re steering us through the gloriously artificial sets used on Baird’s Roman epic (built and shot entirely in L.A., as was the custom of the times), or granting us a peek at the film reels running through the old-school Moviola operated by editor C.C. Calhoun (Frances McDormand, getting in a terrific gag in a one-scene role). But the most sublime moments in Hail, Caesar! occur when the behind-the-scenes machinery drops away, the films being produced become the film we’re watching, and we’re invited to lose ourselves in a state of vintage Hollywood rapture.”
Ann Hornaday (The Washington Post) ▲
“At its most sophisticated, Hail, Caesar! also acknowledges the power of cinema as a colonizing medium, able to codify values that, once expressed by screen idols, seep seamlessly into the public consciousness. One of the film’s most amusing sequences pays clever Coen-esque tribute to that idea, when Mannix assembles a group of religious leaders in order to inoculate Hail, Caesar! against religious controversy. The ensuing, increasingly tetchy debate manages to entertain competing interpretations of nearly everything under the Southern California sun, from script plausibility to the nature of the godhead.”
Ty Burr (The Boston Globe) ▲
“What the Coens are about, instead, is enjoying a long, luxurious soak in the pleasures of craft, both as they were perfected in the inhuman factories of the studio system and as they are practiced today in the hands of cinematographers (Roger Deakins), production designers (Jess Gonchor), soundtrack composers (Carter Burwell), costume designers (Mary Zophres), and on and on, everyone humming along at the top of their games. Hail, Caesar! is nothing more and nothing less than a profession of the Coens’ faith in movies, as snarky and sincere as they can make it. It don’t mean a thing, but it sure has that swing.”
Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune)
“The film this one evokes within the Coens’ career, Barton Fink, was a much stranger and more idiosyncratic achievement, though in its Hollywood studio sequences, dominated by Michael Lerner and Tony Shalhoub, the pacing was breathless and priceless and really, really funny. Hail, Caesar! is more of a mild satiric stroll through familiar territory. In Mannix it’s possible to read a kind of idealized self-portrait of the Coens themselves, who are the ultimate Hollywood insider/outsiders, making big hits (True Grit) and wormy, crabby, more interesting work (Inside Llewyn Davis).”
David Ehrlich (Slate) ▲
“The picture — and this is one of the only contemporary films that someone younger than 50 can refer to as such with a straight face — may be too light on its feet to match the tidal pull of Inside Llewyn Davis or A Serious Man, but it nevertheless takes you to the same place. If the Coen brothers’ dramas are cautionary tales, their comedies are veritable how-to guides for people who can’t help but enjoy a mirthless chuckle at the humility of human existence. Yeah, the joke is on us, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t funny.”
Kenneth Turan (The Los Angeles Times)
“But the great thing about Hail, Caesar! is that it is fun whether you get all its references or not. Loving re-creations of classic Hollywood entertainments and lines like ‘Forgive me, father, I have sinned, I struck a movie star in anger,’ cannot fail to entertain, they really can’t.”
Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 74
Rotten Tomatoes: 78 percent
Length: 113 minuts
Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen