Hail Caesar (2016)
Every time I watch "Hail Caesar," I like it a little more. Not just for its cutting humor, nor for its numerous callbacks to a time when Hollywood found itself right in the center of America's war on communism. No, I love this film because it somehow manages to balance its themes without throwing off its sense of fun.
The Coen Brothers made a film they needed to wait a long time to make and delivered it with both the subversiveness we've come to expect and an endearing weirdness that makes "Hail Caesar" one of their most rewatchable films to date.
So much of directing comes down to what you get out of your actors, and there's no doubt in my mind it's what makes the Coens a force in Hollywood. George Clooney is never better than when there's a Coen in the director's chair. He's having the time of his life as Baird Whitlock, a star kidnapped by communists. That's the essence of every performance: the actors are enjoying themselves.
That goes from Channing Tatum in a spectacular homoerotic dance number, to the scene stealing, hey-that-guy-is-going-to-be-Han-Solo performance of Alden Ehrenreich, to the surliness of Scarlett Johansson, to every perfectly cast character actor. No one is out of place and everyone is having the time of their lives.
It's both a criticism and a compliment that it takes multiple viewings to unpack everything offered in "Hail Caesar." Without spoiling (and diving too deep into the minutiae), it's enough to say Josh Brolin's dutiful studio man, Eddie Mannix, is a stand-in for the Coens, who aren't so sure why they're in the picture business after all these years either.
They do their best to skimp on subtlety to make it easier to digest everything. The studio executive, Mannix's boss, is literally referred to only as Mr. Skank and the internal conflict for Mannix, a job offer, comes from Lockheed Martin. You know, the guys on board with testing hydrogen bombs. So maybe the grey area of the movie business isn't so sinister after all, right?
There's a lot going on in "Hail Caesar," from communist plots to capitalist superstructures to gay coverups and the use of religion as a crutch. Many of these themes are constants in the Coens' previous films; they'd be remiss without including a crotchety rabbi who doesn't seem all that interested in religion, right? What makes it work so well in "Hail Caesar" is the sense of fun the whole thing has.
"At Capitol Pictures, people look to us for information, uplift and yes, entertainment. And we're gonna give it to 'em."
A little on the nose, but I wouldn't have it any other way.