‘Hail, Caesar!’ Review

hail_caesar

Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen

Writers: Joel & Ethan Coen

Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill

Synopsis: A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio’s stars in line.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

The Coen Brothers are known for making films they want to do, and don’t try to make franchise films that the studios today try to make. They also have their own unique style and vision that makes their films standout in their own way. Hail, Caesar! is no different. Their new film acts as a love letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood at times, but swings back and forth between that said love letter and showing us the craziness that existed in the time (and probably now too), and the overall absurdity of it all.

Set during the 1950s, Capitol Pictures (a fictional studio) is set to release their biggest picture to date titled Hail, Caesar! with the biggest star in Hollywood in Baird Whitlock (Clooney). However, during the last days of filming, Whitlock gets kidnapped by a group calling themselves “The Future” and it’s up to the studio’s fixer in Eddie Mannix (Brolin) to find him and make all this go away. Of course, Mannix is dealing with everything else like covering up the pregnancy of DeeAnna Moran (Johansson), moving his cowboy star Hobie Doyle (Ehrenreich) to a full fledge prestige drama with big time director Laurence Laurentz (Fiennes), dealing with twin sister columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Swinton) and his own personal problems. During all this, Whitlock gets to known his captors in a different light.

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Hail, Caesar! like a lot of other Coen Brothers films is going to be a film you either like, or don’t, and while the statement can be said about any film it is no more truer than with this film. The trailers for Hail, Caesar! tell a bit of a different story than we see in the actual film, and that isn’t really that bad of a thing. The film is pretty straight forward once things are put into perspective. That’s not to say things get a little weird and are ridiculous at times, but Hail, Caesar! is great at showing us how every relationship is very topsy-turvy.

At the same time, Hail, Caesar! doesn’t have a problem branching off and leaving the Whitlock story. We follow Hobie and his transition from doing cowboy films to doing his first drama, a water dance sequence by Johansson’s Moran, and even a standout dance sequence that involves Channing Tatum’s Burt Gurney. The scenes have nothing to do with Whitlock, but they show the absurdity that Mannix and Capitol Pictures deal with on a regular basis. The scenes are great, but again, have nothing to do with the main conflict of the story which is Whitlock’s kidnapping.

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I don’t want to give away too much, but the film also has some religious overtones, the film Hail, Caesar! is a religious picture as well as it tells the story of a Roman tribune that eventually meets Jesus, and Mannix is a religious man himself as the film beginning of the film sees him in a confessional. Of course, it doesn’t really help as his character is flawed and does something immediately after that well defeat the purpose for some, but it was a different time back then.

So even if Hail, Caesar! isn’t your cup of tea, you have to admit the performances are worthwhile. The film belongs to Josh Brolin, who we see running around the lot to control everything in the studio. George Clooney’s Baird Whitlock isn’t a typical big star that is hard to work with, he’s just an actor who happens to be good at what he does and gets kidnapped, and has a bit of a womanizer side. Alden Ehrenreich’s Hobie is definitely a highlight of the film as he’s just nice guy that is a bit naïve and goofy, who perfectly fits into a Coen Brothers film.

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The supporting cast has surprisingly small and few scenes, with the only real connection being Mannix. Scarlet Johansson puts on a thick accent and fits into the Golden Age with her looks and wardrobe. Tilda Swinton chews up the scenery with her duel role as twin rivals, and Frances McDormand – who only has one scene – is another one of the highlights and one of the funniest scenes of the film. Jonah Hill also only has one scene in the movie, which in entirety is an okay scene. Finally, Ralph Fiennes as Laurence Laurentz is great to watch and arguably has one of the best scenes in the film with Ehrenreich.

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All in all, Hail, Caesar! can be a bit all over the place, but that is exactly what the Coen Brothers were probably trying to do. Their film isn’t afraid to pull any punches against their peers or what Hollywood was back in the day. The film won’t be for everyone, but Hail, Caesar! definitely has something for everyone.

 

Hail, Caesar!

4 out of 5

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‘Bridge of Spies’ Review

bridge_of_spies

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writers: Matt Charman, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Jesse Plemons, Jon Rue, Scott Shepherd, Dakin Matthews, Mikhail Gorevoy, Sebastian Koch, Will Rogers and Amy Ryan

Synopsis: An American lawyer is recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to help rescue a pilot detained in the Soviet Union.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

The Cold War was an important time in American, and Soviet Union, history. Both sides were at odds with each other and more importantly, both sides wanted information on the other. Steven Spielberg manages to bring some of the mindset to the big screen with his latest film Bridge of Spies, and who better to help him than someone that has proven to give him great work in the past in Tom Hanks. However, Bridges of Spies, which is based on true events, is actually composed as two films in one. One being a courtroom drama and the other being a spy thriller. The two blend together rather well, while also faltering a bit as it tries to handle a bit too much.

While the whole film is set during the height of the Civil War, the first half of Bridges of Spies follows James Donovan, a successful insurance lawyer who is suddenly picked by the government to “defend” a supposed Soviet spy in Rudolf Abel (Rylance). The idea is for Donovan to put on a show for the public and make it looks like Abel is getting a fair trial, even though he will be found guilty. However, Donovan isn’t all that thrilled with the idea since he will become a hated man and not only put himself in danger, but his family’s safety as well. But, to Donovan, there is something about Abel that intrigues him and sees that Abel isn’t really getting a fair shot, so he actually does his best to try and actually do his job much to the chagrin of his co-workers.

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The second half of Bridges of Spies follows the heavily promoted material of Hanks’ Donovan going to Berlin, thanks to the help of the CIA, to discuss and work out a trade for pilot Gary Powers (Stowell), who was shot down, for Abel. Of course, not everything goes as planned and Donovan has to worry about not only making this deal happen, but also getting back home alive.

There is no mistaking that Bridge of Spies belongs to Tom Hanks. Hanks brings his likeability and nice-guy demeanor to Donovan that not only makes his performance work well, and makes us easily root for him, but also enhances the film. Donovan may be a by-the-book kind of guy, but he cares and there are moments where he’s conflicted about doing what’s right and what people are telling him is right. Near the end of the film, he makes a decision based on a new predicament that occurs that is extremely dangerous, and could have had extreme consequences. However, at this point of the film we already know how he will react. It’s great to see, but looking back, you can easily see how dangerous that would have been.

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One of the things that also works extremely well is the relationship and chemistry between Hanks and Mark Rylance. It’s arguably the best working component of the film, and it disappears as Hanks and Rylance don’t share any screen time after the first act of the film. Thankfully, Hanks carries the film, but there is something about the relationship between Hanks and Rylance that makes the film tick and so engaging.

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Rylance is also a standout on his own. The beginning of the film actually follows Rylance’s Abel in a cold – no pun intended – opening as we follow him, and as agents follow him too, doing what seems like a morning routine until he gets a call to pick up something that we, as the audience, know is incriminating. But Rylance doesn’t need to say anything – in fact, he doesn’t say much in terms of dialogue – because he has such an amazing screen presences that it helps not only his character, but the tension going in for the rest of the film.

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However, despite amazing performances by Rylance and Hanks, the rest of the cast get only a few moments to shine, however not all of them work. Austin Stowell’s Gary Powers isn’t as intriguing as Abel, and after his introduction and getting shot down, he disappears with the exception of an integration scene. It’s kind of shame he’s not in the film more since he does play an important part for Hanks’ Donovan. Jesse Plemons also shows up as Powers’ friend and fellow pilot, but there isn’t really much for him to do. Amy Ryan pops in as Mary Donovan, who plays the part of concerned wife, but also somewhat understands why her husband does what he does.

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Dakin Matthews plays Judge Byers during the first half of the film and does a pretty good job and reminds us that during this time of history, even people that are supposed to up hold the law took a side. Scott Shepherd plays CIA agent Hoffman which goes to Berlin with Donovan, and tries to keep Donovan on track that the deal is to make them the trade. Sebastian Koch plays Vogel, a man that Donovan thinks could help him with everything in Berlin, but something to Donovan feels off.

Bridge of Spies does stumble a bit near the middle of the film. A new plot point is introduced that doesn’t really do too much for the film other than give Donovan another obstacle to overcome. There are also a few plot points that a bought up, but never mentioned or even hinted at again as the film progresses. Yes, the film is all about Donovan and his task, but it would have been nice for the film to give some sort of resolution or a mention.

The film, again, really tries to put you in the mindset of the people living in the time. There is even a point in the film where Donovan makes a funny remark about his treatment in a certain place. Speaking of funny, Bridge of Spies has some surprisingly great humor injected into the film that breaks some of the tension and seriousness of the situations.

All in all, Bridge of Spies has a lot going on, and while most of it works, the missteps make it from being an even greater film. Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance’s chemistry makes the film pop and is the arguably the better part of the film, but make no mistake in saying that this film belongs to Hanks.

Bridge of Spies

4 out of 5