Hail, Caesar!

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Hail, Caesar!
Hail, Caesar! poster.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed by
Produced by
Written by
  • Joel Coen
  • Ethan Coen
Starring
Narrated by Michael Gambon
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography Roger Deakins
Edited by
  • Joel Coen
  • Ethan Coen
Production
companies
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
Running time
106 minutes[1]
Country
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $22 million[2]
Box office $63.6 million[2]

Hail, Caesar! is a 2016 British-American comedy film written, produced, edited, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. The film stars Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Channing Tatum. It is a fictional story that follows the real-life "fixer" Eddie Mannix (Brolin) working in the Hollywood film industry in the 1950s, trying to discover what happened to a cast member who vanished during the filming of a biblical epic.

First talked about by the Coens in 2004, Hail, Caesar! was originally set to take place in the 1920s and to follow actors performing a play about ancient Rome. The Coens shelved the idea until late 2013, when they revealed that it was in development. Principal photography began in November 2014 in Los Angeles, California.

The film premiered in Los Angeles on February 1, 2016, and was released in the United States on February 5, 2016, it grossed $63 million worldwide and received positive reviews from critics, although audiences were less enthusiastic. The film was chosen by National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of 2016,[3] it received an Academy Award nomination for Best Production Design.

Plot[edit]

In 1951, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is the head of physical production at Capitol Pictures and also works as a "fixer" to keep the scandalous behavior of its stars out of the press, he often has to fend off inquiries from Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both played by Tilda Swinton), twin sisters and rival gossip columnists. The Lockheed Corporation has been courting him with an offer of a high-level executive position, but he is unsure about taking it. When unmarried synchronised swimming actress DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) becomes pregnant, Mannix arranges for her to put the baby in foster care, and then adopt it without revealing herself as the mother.

The studio's major production is Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ, an epic set in ancient Roman times and starring Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). During a shot, Whitlock drinks from a goblet of wine that was drugged by an extra (Wayne Knight); he passes out while rehearsing lines by himself behind the soundstage and is abducted. A ransom note soon arrives, written by a group calling itself "The Future," demanding $100,000. Mannix arranges to get the money from the studio's Accounting Department, as "petty cash."

Whitlock awakens in a beach house and finds his way into a meeting of The Future, a Communist cell, the members, who introduce themselves as mostly writers in the motion picture industry, explain their doctrine to him and begin to win him over to their cause. At the same time, Thora threatens Mannix by stating she will release an article about a scandal involving the earlier film On Wings As Eagles, which gave Whitlock his break-out role. Mannix successfully negotiates for her to postpone the story by a day in exchange for information about the romantic life of singing Western film star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich).

Doyle is cast in a comedy of manners helmed by posh director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) in an attempt by the studio to broaden his appeal, after Doyle's initial performance is hopelessly incompetent, Laurentz visits Mannix and asks him to remove Doyle from the project so that Laurentz can preserve his artistic vision for the film. Mannix informs Laurentz that Doyle's role is non-negotiable and convinces him to coach the young actor to give a better performance. Doyle comes to Mannix's office and admits that he feels the part is too far outside his comfort zone. Mannix reassures him that he has the needed acting abilities and tells him about Whitlock's kidnapping.

That evening, Doyle attends the premiere of one of his own Westerns with starlet Carlotta Valdez (Verónica Osorio), per instructions from Mannix. Doyle is initially disappointed that his lone singing scene is depicted in a comedic manner, rather than as heartfelt as he intended. However, after seeing the audience react positively to the scene, Doyle warms to it himself. Doyle and Valdez visit a nightclub, where the pair are genuinely developing chemistry until they are interrupted by both Thacker sisters, each looking to get a scoop on their relationship. Doyle suddenly spots the briefcase containing the ransom money, recognizing it because he had lent Mannix his belt to keep it closed, it is being carried by Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum), the star of a sailor musical comedy depicted earlier in an elaborate dancing scene.

Mannix and Moran meet with a surety agent, Joseph Silverman (Jonah Hill), an average man whom the studio has used to solve public problems; he has a solid reputation as completely dependable, reliable, and discreet. He will agree to provide foster care for Moran's child, preserving her image. Moran, who expressed frustration with her previous two marriages with a mobster and a Hollywood type, finds herself strongly attracted to Silverman.

Doyle follows Gurney to the beach house in Malibu but, after walking in the front door, finds only Whitlock inside, the rest of The Future's members have rowed a boat containing Gurney offshore so that he can rendezvous with a Soviet submarine and defect to Russia. The members of The Future give him the money for the Communist cause, as Gurney boards the submarine, his dog jumps into his arms, causing him to drop the briefcase, which sinks into the ocean. Doyle takes Whitlock back to the studio just before the police arrive at the beach house to arrest the group, after Mannix's investigation led him to the house.

Whitlock tries to explain his new-found Communist leanings to Mannix, who cuts him off sharply, slapping his face numerous times, and orders him to finish his role in Hail, Caesar!; the actor is chastened, but encouraged by a final directive from Mannix to be a movie star.

Mannix is notified the next morning that Moran married Silverman who will adopt the child with her. Mannix announces he has decided to reject the Lockheed offer and continue working at Capitol. Thora then meets with Mannix and informs him that the column she plans to publish about On Wings As Eagles will reveal that Whitlock got his major role in the film by having sex with Laurentz. However, Mannix has deduced that Gurney is her source for the piece and persuades her to not run the story since Gurney is a Communist who has defected—which would cause her own reputation to suffer by association. Mannix leaves the worried-looking Thora, secure in his station in life.

Historical context[edit]

Set in 1951,[4] Hail, Caesar! takes place at a transitional time for the film industry. The studio system was breaking down, and a Supreme Court ruling had forced studios to divest their movie theaters. Television, then still in its early years, threatened to pull away audiences, the Cold War and the Red Scare were both underway. Hollywood responded by creating escapist fare: westerns, highly choreographed dance and aquatic spectacles, and, as the film title suggests, Roman epics with massive casts.[5]

Writing in The Washington Post, Kristen Page-Kirby noted that the nostalgia for Hollywood's golden age is heavily filtered by time. "It’s easy to look back at any part of the past and say, 'Yeah, that’s how it should be today'. Hail, Caesar! uses the uniformly terrible fake movies within it to show that while we all remember 1946 for stuff like The Yearling and Notorious, it also gave us Tarzan and the Leopard Woman."[6] The Coens cited their own examples of sub-par films and performances from the era that they saw as television re-runs while growing up: That Touch of Mink (1962), and Laurence Olivier, in mahogany makeup, co-starring with Charlton Heston in Khartoum (1966). "We loved that stuff. We just didn’t realize we were watching crap", said Joel Coen.[7]

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Crew[edit]

Development[edit]

The Coens first pitched the story to George Clooney in 1999 during the shooting of O Brother, Where Art Thou? Ethan Coen described it as a "thought experiment" rather than a tangible project.[7] A comedy film, the story was originally said to follow "a troupe of actors in the 1920s putting on a play about ancient Rome", with the focus on a matinée idol.[32] Clooney was to play the main character, "a hammy actor with a pencil mustache".[33][34][35] In February 2008, the Coens said that the film did not have a script, but only existed as an idea, they said that it would be a fourth movie in their "Numbskull Trilogy" with Clooney, following O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), Intolerable Cruelty (2003) and Burn After Reading (2008).[36]

The project was mentioned in a December 2013 interview about Inside Llewyn Davis. Joel Coen revealed that they were "working on" Hail, Caesar!, and that it would likely be their next project.[37] In May 2014, the Coens reconfirmed the film's development, with the plot now focused on a "fixer" working in the Hollywood film industry in the 1950s.[32][38]

Pre-production[edit]

Casting[edit]

In December 2013, the Coens confirmed that Clooney would remain involved with the project;[35] in June 2014, Josh Brolin, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, and Tilda Swinton joined the cast, Universal Pictures was announced to be distributing the film, and Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan signed on to produce the film for Working Title Films.[8][39][40] In July, Jonah Hill and Scarlett Johansson entered talks to join the production. Johansson would portray "an actress who suddenly becomes pregnant as her film is about to go into production",[14] the next month, Johansson and Hill were confirmed to have joined the cast, and Alden Ehrenreich entered negotiations to star.[11] In a September 2014 interview with The Daily Beast, Frances McDormand said she had a role in the film;[15] in October, Patrick Fischler, David Krumholtz, and Fisher Stevens joined the cast as communist screenwriters, and Clancy Brown joined as an actor in the film within a film, also titled Hail, Caesar![23] The following month, Christopher Lambert was cast as Arne Slessum, a European filmmaker who has an affair with Johannson's character;[24] in a November 2014 interview at the Ottawa Pop Expo, Robert Picardo revealed that he had a role in the film and that he was set to begin filming in December.[25] Also in November, Emily Beecham was said to have a role in the film.[20]

Costume design[edit]

Costume designer Mary Zophres began work 12 weeks ahead of shooting, researching period wardrobe from the late 1940s on the assumption that most people routinely wear clothes purchased over the past few years, she designed for a working film studio of the early 1950s, plus six genre films, each of which featured a major actor working on the set for about a week. Photos from the MGM library and the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences showed that film crews dressed more formally than today—no shorts or sneakers. Zophres produced about 15 boards of preliminary sketches, including "sculptural Technicolor gowns" for the ballroom drama that were inspired by the work of Charles James, her double-breasted suit for Josh Brolin was intended to blend with his skin tone, his moustache was styled after Walt Disney's, his hair was permed, and his character alone wore a fedora. Zophres modeled Channing Tatum's look on Troy Donahue and Tyrone Power, the costumes in Ben Hur in particular served as references for the gladiator sequences, although Zophres employed the contemporary technique of using painted hard plastic foam instead of metal. The film ultimately required more than 2,500 costumes, including 170 Roman extras, 120 Israelites and about 45 slaves. About 500 of the costumes were custom-made for the actors. Toward the end of the shoot, the scope of the project overtook the budget, and Zophres completed some of the sewing herself.[41][42][43]

Filming[edit]

In October 2014, Roger Deakins posted on his website that he would be the film's cinematographer and was shooting test footage.[44] Principal photography on the film began in Los Angeles, California, on November 10, 2014.[12] According to the Los Angeles Times, the Coen brothers' decision to film in Los Angeles increased filming activity in the city, which had previously been down by "a double-digit percentage... in the fourth quarter [of 2014]".[9][45] Later the same month, Kate Morgan Chadwick was seen filming with Brolin;[46] in December, Clooney was photographed in full Roman regalia while filming scenes in Downtown Los Angeles.[47]

Tatum dyed his hair blond for his role[48] as a tap-dancing sailor, one of five in the "No Dames!" sequence set in the Swingin’ Dinghy bar. The actor, who had danced hip-hop and street, but not tap, worked without a double after much training. Other dancers came from Broadway, including Clifton Samuels, who said that the scene's greatest challenge was not Christopher Gattelli's choreography per se, but maintaining the style of the period "in which the dancers must stay on the balls of their feet." A split-screen scene from the That’s Entertainment! trilogy influenced the Coens' decision to widen the shot to reveal crew members pushing the set into place.[49]

Hail, Caesar! was the first movie that Deakins shot on film since True Grit in 2010. The Coens themselves had said that their previous movie, Inside Llewyn Davis, would probably be their last use of the medium.[50] But with Hail, Caesar!''s classic Hollywood theme making film an obvious choice, Deakins agreed to give it one more try. "I don’t mind," he recalled saying, "I’ll shoot it on a cell phone if you like." Ultimately the film proved a limited palette due to the narrowing choices of stocks and processing options in the wake of digital cinematography. Deakins didn't recall encountering those kinds of problems on earlier projects. "But it makes me nervous now. I don’t want to do that again, frankly. I don’t think the infrastructure’s there."[51]

Locations[edit]

Southern California locations were used throughout the film, presenting a challenge to location manager John Panzarella, he noted that "period locations are disappearing fast", including several employed in an earlier film he scouted, the 1997 LA Confidential. The Warner Bros. studio, which, unusually, has retained its vintage buildings, stood in for most of the fictitious Capitol Pictures Productions after trailers, electrical hookups, and other contemporary fixtures were removed. Union Station in downtown Los Angeles was also used for some studio exteriors. The synchronized swimming scene with Scarlett Johansson was choreographed and directed by Mesha Kussman, and performed by the Aqualillies, a Los Angeles-based group of professional synchronized swimmers,[52] they worked at the water tank on Stage 30 at Sony Pictures Studios; the tank was also used for Esther Williams films and was under restoration until a week before shooting.[41] The wood-paneled conference room where Mannix vets the movie with religious leaders was filmed at the Cravens Estate's drawing room in Pasadena, the office of general counsel Sid Siegelstein was shot at a 1929 building in Los Angeles's Arts District later owned by Southwestern Bag Company. The building was designed by the same architecture firm that did UCLA's Royce Hall.[5][53]

Locations used for scenes beyond Capitol Pictures included the Appian Way scenes, which were shot at the Big Sky Movie Ranch in Simi Valley, and the western sequence, which was filmed at Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park. The well of Jehoshaphat sequence was shot at Bronson Canyon, formerly a quarry, in Griffith Park, the nightclub interiors, the scene of Carlotta and Hobie's date, was shot at the Hollywood Palladium, with the exterior at the Fonda Theatre and some reverse shots at the Chapman Plaza in Korea Town.[54] Carlotta's house exterior was filmed at a 1927 home in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles; this was also the locale for The Good Luck Bar, which stood in for the Imperial Gardens Chinese restaurant. The movie premiere was shot in the Los Angeles Theatre, selected for its spacious lobby.[5][53]

Post-production[edit]

Digital effects for Hail, Caesar! encompassed three areas: standard effects like Ehrenreich's lasso tricks, period effects including a matte painting of Rome that referenced the 1951 film Quo Vadis, and effects intended to blur the line between a 2016 film and the vintage movie-making techniques it portrays. Examples of the latter include a green screen car sequence made to look as if it employed the older technique of rear projection, and the submarine sequence, which employed computer graphics that suggested the use of miniatures. "It was important that the sub not look silly", said effects supervisor Dan Schrecker, whereas "the whole point of that Rome matte painting was that it was ridiculous". The burning film frame in McDormand's Moviola scene was created by Sam Spreckley, a Scottish visual artist who experiments with the technique,[55] the special effects of the beach house on the bluff were meant as an homage to North by Northwest.[56]

Soundtrack[edit]

Hail, Caesar!: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Hail Caesar Soundtrack.jpg
Soundtrack album by Carter Burwell & Various
Released February 5, 2016
Genre Score
Label Back Lot Music

The soundtrack for the film, titled Hail Caesar!: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, features the original score by Carter Burwell, and an original song, "No Dames!", performed by Channing Tatum.[57] The soundtrack was released via digital download and physical formats on February 5, 2016, by Back Lot Music.[57][58]

Carter Burwell composed the score for the film, and wrote original songs along with Henry Krieger and Willie Reale.[59][60]

Marketing[edit]

Universal and Working Title released the official trailer on October 9, 2015,[61] on December 29, 2015, the first poster for the film was released.[62] On January 7, 2016, another poster was released.[63]

Release[edit]

The film premiered at the Regency Village Theater in Los Angeles on February 1, 2016[64] and was released in the United States on February 5,[65] the film opened the Berlin International Film Festival on February 11,[66] was released in the United Kingdom on March 4,[67] and on Blu-ray on June 7.[68]

Box office[edit]

Hail, Caesar! grossed $30.1 million in the United States and Canada and $33.1 million in other countries for a worldwide total of $63.2 million, against a production budget of $22 million.[2]

The film was released in North America on February 5, 2016, alongside Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and The Choice, and was projected to gross $9–11 million from 2,231 theaters in its opening weekend.[69] It made $543,000 from Thursday night previews and $4.3 million on its first day.[70] The film went on to gross $11.4 million in its opening weekend, finishing second at the box office behind Kung Fu Panda 3 ($21.2 million).[71] In its second weekend the film grossed $6.4 million (a 44% drop), finishing 6th at the box office.[72]

Critical response[edit]

Hail, Caesar! received positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 86%, based on 304 reviews, with an average rating of 7.2/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Packed with period detail and perfectly cast, Hail, Caesar! finds the Coen brothers delivering an agreeably lightweight love letter to post-war Hollywood."[73] On Metacritic the film has a score of 72 out of 100, based on 50 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[74]

The New Yorker's Richard Brody called the film "a comedy, and a scintillating, uproarious one, filled with fast and light touches of exquisite incongruity in scenes that have the expansiveness of relaxed precision, performed and timed with the spontaneous authority of jazz."[75] Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan called it a "droll tribute to and spoof of Hollywood past [that] amuses from beginning to end with its site specific re-creation of the studio system and the movies that made it famous." The Coens were "helped enormously by a splendid and committed ensemble cast."[76]

John Anderson of The Wall Street Journal wrote: "A dispiritingly vitriolic, only sporadically funny satire of ’50s Hollywood, Hail, Caesar! verifies a suspicion long held here, that the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, really hate the movies. Their central character, Eddie Mannix...is being wooed by Lockheed. Better hours. Better pay. Lifetime employment. Fewer nut jobs. And work that wouldn't be quite so... frivolous. The movie makes a strong case that the Coen brothers feel the same way. You start to wonder why you're sitting there watching."[77]

The Atlantic associate editor David Sims concluded the opposite. Coen protagonists, he wrote, sometimes ask questions of higher powers—and receive no answer. "In Hail, Caesar! the answer is given, and it’s as hopeful as one could expect from the Coens: Cinema’s somber, weighty moments matter, but equally crucial are the frivolous, joyful bits of entertainment—watching Channing Tatum tap-dance on a table, or George Clooney ramble overwritten monologues."[78]

Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote that Hail, Caesar! falls between the filmmakers' masterworks and duds. "It’s a typically sly, off-center comedy, once again set against the machinery of the motion-picture business. And, as usual with the Coens, it has more going on than there might seem, including in its wrangling over God and ideology, art and entertainment."[79]

Richard Roeper gave the film four out of four stars, calling the film one of his favorite movies ever made about making movies.[80] IGN gave the film 7.7/10, saying, "Hail, Caesar! may not be one of the Coen Brothers' finest efforts—and it might not engage viewers beyond Los Angeles or those who truly understand or work in the film industry—but it's nevertheless a fun, charming, and oft-hilarious take on Hollywood's Golden Age."[81] In a review for The Village Voice, Melissa Anderson praised the performances, but found that the tone and humor of the film "too often goes flat."[82]

Despite positive critical reception, audiences were mixed to negative about the film. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C−" on an A+ to F scale. 52% of the opening day audience were males while 84% were over 25, with both demographics giving the film a "D+" grade, while those over 50 years old gave the film a grade of "D−".[71] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 44% audience score.[73]

Accolades[edit]

List of awards and nominations
Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Academy Awards February 26, 2017 Best Production Design Jess Gonchor and Nancy Haigh Nominated [83]
[84]
ACE Eddie Awards January 27, 2017 Best Edited Feature Film – Comedy or Musical Roderick Jaynes Nominated [85]
Art Directors Guild Awards February 11, 2017 Excellence in Production Design for a Period Film Jess Gonchor Nominated [86]
Chicago Film Critics Association December 15, 2016 Best Supporting Actor Alden Ehrenreich Nominated [87]
Costume Designers Guild February 21, 2017 Excellence in Period Film Mary Zophres Nominated [88]
Critics' Choice Awards December 11, 2016 Best Comedy Hail, Caesar! Nominated [89]
Denver Film Critics Society January 16, 2017 Best Comedy Hail, Caesar! Nominated [90]
Detroit Film Critics Society December 19, 2016 Best Supporting Actor Alden Ehrenreich Nominated [91]
Location Managers Guild Awards April 8, 2017 Outstanding Locations in a Period Film John Panzarella, Leslie Thorson Nominated [92]
Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild February 19, 2017 Feature-Length Motion Picture – Period and/or Character Make-Up Jean Ann Black, Zoe Hay and Julie Hewett Nominated [93]
Feature-Length Motion Picture – Period and/or Character Hair Styling Cydney Cornell, Matt Danon and Pauletta Lewis-Irwin Won
San Diego Film Critics Society December 12, 2016 Best Comedy Performance Alden Ehrenreich Nominated [94]
[95]
Best Production Design Jess Gonchor Won
Breakthrough Artist Alden Ehrenreich Nominated
St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association December 18, 2016 Best Cinematography Roger Deakins Nominated [96]
Best Production Design Jess Gonchor Nominated
Best Comedy Hail, Caesar! Won
Best Scene "Would that it were so simple." Nominated

Additional reading[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]