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Non-Review Review: Hail, Caesar!

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2016.

Hail, Caesar! is little more than an excuse for the Coen Brothers to adventure through classic Hollywood; a series of fantastic scenes and sequences tied together more by central theme than by a linear plot. It is telling how many performers essentially find themselves relegated to only a single scene or two, with performers like Scarlett Johannessen, Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Alison Pill, Ralph Fiennes and Channing Tatum effectively (and occasionally literally) dancing around the film than weaving through it.

In many respects, this simply shouldn’t work. On paper – and perhaps on reflection – Hail, Caesar! plays like an anthology of great little scenes; a collection of short films all linked by the classic Hollywood aesthetic more than a single unifying narrative. The actual substance of the film is quite removed from the story promised by the trailers, which seem to tease “an old-timey movie Ocean’s Eleven with actors teaming up to rescue a kidnapped George Clooney.” It spoils nothing to reveal that the movie is most definitely not about that.

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Although the kidnapping of Baird Whitlock is a central thread, Hail, Caesar! plays more like a day in the life of Hollywood studio fixer Eddie Mannix. Mannix is (very) loosely based on the real studio executive (and notorious “fixer”) of the same name, although it seems quite unlikely that he ever had a day quite as bizarre as that presented here. The Coen Brothers have a great deal of fun incorporating classic Hollywood iconography into their film, both as movies within the movie and then in a more meta-fictional manner towards the climax.

However, Hail, Caesar! is tied together through its recurring humanism. The movie opens with Mannix taking confession for his sins, part of a daily ritual. One of the films featured is an old-school biblical epic. Complex economic theories are woven through the narrative, and the film repeatedly touches upon the awkward relationship that exists between Capitol Pictures and its performers. Although Hail, Caesar! is too shrewd to propose easy answers to its complex web of character interactions, it does tease some insightful questions. And features some great set pieces.

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