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Hail, Caesar!

The new Coen film is set in a Hollywood studio in the 50s. Scarlett Johansson is a bathing beauty in a water ballet, George Clooney is Baird Whitlock, a movie star in the vein of Charlton Heston. When Whitlock is kidnapped by “The Future” gang, ...


The imaginary sword and sandal epic that’s being made in HAIL, CEASAR! Is actually a version of the Jesus story. Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), the fixer, invites representatives of the Church and a Rabbi to the made-up Hollywood studio “Capitol Pictures” to make sure that the film doesn’t offend anyone. A typical Coen conversation transpires among the theologians bout the nature of God, with the highlight of the Christian-Jewish verbal exchange being: “God was once wrathful” “Oh, and now he’s over it?” No one has anything against the script, but the Greek-Orthodox man of God says that he thinks the chariot race is unrealistic. Jumping from one chariot to the other seems impossible to him. Even the theologian is all about the special effects.
A clear side blow to Hollywood’s religious self-censorship and the current rampant religious extremism. HAIL, CAESAR! avoids representing God at all costs – the correspondent scenes aren’t shot yet and the production screenings are replaced with a blended “divine presence – to be shot” graphic. The secret divinity which actually presides over the meandering, delightful, playful film is old Hollywood cinema itself. The cinema of production values and completely lacking in ironic feelings. An outrageous plot and the studio setting allows the Coen brothers to revive as much of it as possible. There’s a pompous water ballet scene with a bathing beauty (Scarlett Johansson), a tap dancing gay sailor, the silent western actor Hobey (Alden Ehrenreich) who does one somersault on a horse after the other, plays guitar, and saves the whole shebang, the incredibly dumb world star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney, fully enjoying making a fool out of himself yet again), and dreary narration: “the communists enjoy a rare moment of leisure.”
It’s all very funny and also lovable, almost wistful. Hobie’s western stunts are indeed very acrobatic and the tap dancing scene is nicely choreographed. You get the impression that the Coens would actually like to make a film where they can seriously direct someone and say: “in the brazier scene passion turns to fervour.” But unlike many of their colleagues they know that this can’t happen anymore. Old Hollywood cinema which made something that felt like part of a dream opposite the pain of the slaving masses, has irrevocably passed. The suspense of disbelief doesn’t really work anymore. And it was actually also a capitalist stultification machine, and still is. But it was great anyway.
How does the sentence go again? Hail, Caesar! Those who are about to die salute you.

Hendrike Bake

Translation: Elinor Lewy


USA/Großbritannien 2016, 100 min
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Musical
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Author: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
DOP: Roger Deakins
Montage: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Music: Carter Burwell
Distributor: Universal Pictures Germany
Cast: George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson
Release: 18.02.2016


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