“Hail Caesar,” by the Cohen Brothers, 2016
I think I’ve been robbed by the Hollywood capitalists and dream-merchants of $8. Really. A real bait and switch. Much as I like most previous Cohen brother’s films, this is a mess. This is basically a very professional and processed homage to old Hollywood films and the atmosphere that came with them - and nothing more. People who might remind you of Roy Rogers, Charlton Heston, Dalton Trumbo, Esther Williams, Gene Kelly, Hedda Hopper and Zero Mostel makes pseudo appearances. And yes, the Frankfurt school of Marxism is represented by Herbert Marcuse. The film is rarely funny, but more like a bunch of lame 1950s one-liners in Vegas. Can we dispense with the self-reverential cameos by famous actors and actresses? Do we yearn for synchronized swimming or sailor dancing or cowboys with lariats? Can we actually have a point? No, there is no point. This is post-modern indulgence at its best.
The hero is a Catholic industry executive for “Capitol“ Pictures, who really was named Eddie Mannix. He’s on-time, tough yet sensitive, dealing with the myriad problems of the film industry. He spends his long hours keeping the lid on homosexuality, out-of-wedlock births and communism and promoting Jesus and confession. In the penultimate scene in a Roman sandal film, “Hail Caesar,” Heston/Clooney kneels before Christ on the cross, giving a sincere Christian accolade that even brings the film crew to tears with its impressiveness. Then he stumbles over the last line, so the scene has to be filmed again. I swear, these two Jewish guys are doing wonders for Jesus, even when they think they are not.
A Jewish rabbi, a Catholic priest, a Protestant preacher and an Eastern Orthodox priest walk into a Hollywood studio. They are brought in by Mannix to back up the idea that this tale of Christ is on the button. Instead a stupid religious argument ensues, which nevertheless endorses the film – minus the rabbi of course. Badda badda boom.Yuckita, yuckita, that’s religion!
Politics is presented by a clatch of geeky Hollywood writers who are in the Communist Party, complaining of being exploited by the studios who take the lion’s share of the profits. Marcuse, looking like Trotsky, lectures Clooney on the dialectic and even Clooney is won over, as the Commies seem to have everything about Hollywood sussed out. A front for capitalism, as the ‘study group’ puts it. Mannix shuts up Clooney about his newfound conviction, telling him instead to ‘go out and be a star.’ And he does. Then the Cohen’s dispense with the CP’ers by having them row out to a surfacing Soviet sub to show their lick-spittalness. (Fact check: The comrades donate their ransom money to the “Comintern,” which had been shut-down by Stalin many years earlier.)
At any rate, if you can find a point to this film other than nostalgia for that Hollywood, then you get a fan Oscar. ( For instance, is that ocean-side house in Malibu the same one as Jackie Treehorn’s in the ‘Big Lebowski?’ No.) I don’t think identifying all the microscopic film references counts. The self-indulgent film is really ‘all about them’ - meaning ‘all about the Cohens.’ And fuck-all to that.
February 12, 2016