Hail, Caesar! (2016)

I was surprised by the lukewarm reception to this film, because it’s easily in my “upper tier” of Coen films. The Coens have made films about film-making before, but making it from the perspective of a producer, often seen critically from film fan and creator’s eyes, was really interesting to me. The film is nothing like “Barton Fink”; it’s not so much a meditation on film-making as a tribute to it, with a moral arc forming the story.

I don’t feel like I’ve sufficiently understood, unpacked, or decoded a lot of what’s in the film. My thoughts on the capitalist and communist elements are still jumbled…Mannix’s speech on that matter near the end didn’t ring true for me, but I’m unsure how much it was meant to. The moral and faith elements worked perfectly clearly for me, but the political angle less so. The Coens surely have complicated thoughts on the matter; I’ve seen critiques positioning them as critical of counterculture and “crypto-conservative”, but I’m unsure. A Serious Man certainly offered deeper and more nuanced thoughts on faith than anything pro-religion, I think it was pretty damn critical of organised religion ultimately. Films like Fargo and Raising Arizona certainly position their “conservative” protagonists (insofar as following “traditional family values”) as heroic, likeable, and the “right way to be”, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt any legitimately conservative messages in their films, at least not to a level that they’re a clearly dominant reading. Bridge of Spies is pretty sentimentally pro-capitalist in a lot of ways, but they only wrote that, not directed it.

There’s definitely interesting religious readings to be had here. I particularly like the one positioning Mannix as Christ…sacrificing himself for the many sinners that make up the studio around him, God being the unshown studio head, the businessman offering Mannix a new job as tempting Satan, Channing Tatum’s character as Judas (the briefcase as the 40 pieces of silver), etc. Plenty of interesting ways to decode the film.

I liked the episodic structure, with the many delightful setpieces. The cast was all fantastic. Even letting go of reading further into the film, it’s just a plain enjoyable way to spend two hours.

Ultimately I feel like the film is a celebration of cinema itself. It Mannix believes in anything, it’s cinema.

I give it four dance numbers, and a mermaid.


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