I love movies about movies. My favorites include Sullivan’s Travels, Sunset Boulevard, The Bad and the Beautiful, The Barefoot Contessa, The Player, and Barton Fink. The last film in the list came from the twisted minds of the Coen Brothers as does Hail Caesar.
The Coens haven’t done a primarily comedic movie since 2008’s Burn After Reading, which also starred George Clooney. Clooney plays a rather dim superstar who’s making a film within the film called Hail Caesar: A Tale of the Christ. At least that title doesn’t have an exclamation point, so I chose to ape it. It is, the year of the monkey, after all: Kung hei fat choy.
Clooney’s kidnapping by a group of communist writers kicks the dizzy plot into high gear but the plot isn’t the point of a movie like this. The sole question to ask is: did it make you laugh? I certainly did. The laughs, however, aren’t Marxian (brothers) belly laughs but dry chuckles. The Coens *are* from Minnesota and specialize in wry, deadpan humor.
I also got a kick out of guessing which golden age Hollywood figures the characters were based on. Slate’s Matthew Dessem has a fine piece about who may be who with which I largely agree. I do, however, think Clooney’s character is a composite of Robert Taylor and Clark Gable. Taylor was rumored to be gay and did some sword and sandals epics in the ’50’s, but the blackmail story made me think of Gable, especially since Ralph Fiennes’ character is based on the great director George Cukor. The story goes that Gable had Cukor fired from Gone With The Wind because he’d serviced the director when he was a street hustler. There’s no way to verify the story, but it’s become a seedier part of Hollywood legend.
I really enjoyed Hail Caesar and give it an Adrastos Grade of B+, 3 1/2 stars, and an Ebertian thumb way up. I’ve never been quite sure where the proverbial thumb is inserted though…
One reason I decided to review Hail Caesar is that it gave me a pretext to post a picture of my friends Bob and Julie’s brilliant Mardi Gras costumes. Ladies and gentleman, I give you Caesar, Salad.