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Hail, Caesar!

Universal // PG-13 // June 7, 2016
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted June 1, 2016 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, Hail Caesar! is a period film set in the 1950's. Here we meet a Capital Pictures executive named Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who has to do what he can to keep his product on time and on budget. He's a ‘fixer' we're told. This means he's also occasionally tasked with looking out for some of the wilder talent in his employ, chief amongst them marquee idol Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). Given that Barid is currently working for Mannix on their latest effort, ‘Tale Of The Christ,' you can understand why those bankrolling the film might want to keep his randy behavior in line. While Mannix is no saint himself, often finding himself more than a little bit dishonest with his wife (Alison Pill), he's at least occasionally plagued by guilt over his actions.

Things get even more complicated for Eddie when his leading lady, DeeAnnaMoran (Scarlett Johansson), who is not married, finds out that she's pregnant. On top of that there's a pretentious European director named Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) to deal with, a cowboy named Hobbie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) on hand, two twin sister gossip columnist named Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton in both cases), a chain smoking editor named C.C. Calhoun (Frances McDormand) and, well, the list of characters seems to go on and on. When Baird up and vanishes from the set, Mannix has to go find him and as he tries to do just that, hijinks ensue. Oh, and there are musical numbers and communists writers at play here, too.

Hail Caesar! seems to exist mainly as a reason for the Coen's to try their hand at recreating some very familiar classic Hollywood set pieces, and to their credit they do that very well. There are some impressive musical numbers here that pay obvious tribute to the likes of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. There are lots of matte paintings and big studio ‘stuff' is happening throughout the feature, so there's always something to look at. And it works. It's not always deep and it's not really life changing but it is warm, superfluous fun and it's often times effective in its comedic elements. Roger Deakins, once again on staff as cinematographer, definitely earns his paycheck this time around. The Coen Brothers' features always look great but this one is big in scope and scale so it really lets them play with the frame in some very impressive ways. Even if this film fell flat on its face it would still be worth seeing for the visuals alone. Deakins perfectly nails the ‘period look' of the film while Carter Burwell's score does a fine job complimenting it.

Thankfully, it doesn't. The cast are all in fine form here, and what a great cast it is. Brolin is excellent and a lot of fun to watch, while Clooney is perfectly cast as the troublemaking A-lister that Brolin's character, like it or not, is so dependent on. Scarlett Johansson once again proves she's more than just an extremely pretty face and does great work here too, while Tilda Swinton uses her bizarrely watchable screen presence to make her double role work far better than it has any right to. McDormand and Ehrenreich are also great, while small roles from Channing Tatum (in a dance scene, of course!), Jonah Hill, Fisher Stevens and Christopher Lambert are also worth mentioning.

Characters could and should have been developed more than they are. Some plot lines sort of fizzle out and don't really go anywhere (the obvious one being the involvement of the communist writers) and there are a too few many times where the focus on Mannix's plight becomes blurry, making him more of a supporting character at times than a lead. But the good outweighs the bad. If this is style over substance at times, so be it, Hail Caesar! is still perfectly enjoyable entertainment.

The Blu-ray:


Hail Caesar! debuts on Blu-ray from Universal Studios in a very impressive looking AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. The image is consistently crisp and clean. The transfer offers up all sorts of little bits and pieces of detail to appreciate here throughout the movie that add to the fun. Medium and long distance shots show off impressive texture throughout, particularly in those shots where the movie opens up outside, and color reproduction remains impressive throughout even if it looks to have been tweaked here and there to boost the contrast a bit. Skin tones look good, no digital scrubbing or noise reduction is evident at all, while shadow detail is strong in the dark scenes as are black levels. This transfer is very strong across the board, as you'd expect it to be given that it's a brand new major studio production and all.


The main audio option is a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track in English with optional subtitles provided in English SDH, French and Spanish. The 5.1 track is a good one, you'll notice this right in the opening scene all the way through the finale. Even in the scenes where there's less action you'll still pick up on some impressive surround activity. The more active scenes understandably have more going on but even in the quieter moments the score is spread out nicely and dialogue stays crisp and properly balanced. No issues with hiss or distortion and plenty of depth here to appreciate. DTS-HD 5.1 tracks are also provided in French and Spanish.


Extras are made up by four featurettes, the first of which is Directing Hollywoood. This eleven minute piece sees the principal cast members (George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Alden Ehrenreich, and Tilda Swinton) and the film's producer, Robert Graf, discuss how this picture came to exist, what went into getting it actually made and how much everyone involved loved working with the Coen Brothers. It's not very deep, but it's passably entertaining. The Stars Align, also eleven minutes, gets those same cast members once again joined by Graf in front of the camera to talk about their respective characters and appreciation for the feature. Again, it's not deep but it's amusing enough to watch once. The six minute The Era Of Glamor sees Graf, Johansson, Tatum, Clooney, Brolin, Fiennes and Swinton joined by Production Designer Jess Gonchor and Costume Designer Mary Zophres to share some insight into the importance of getting the wardrobe and costuming period accurate for the feature. This is, sadly, shorter than it could have been but what is here is interesting. The last featurette, also six minutes, is The Magic Of A Bygone Era and it joins most of those aforementioned cast members with Graf again, this time paired up with Choreographers Mesha Kussman and Chris Gatelli, to explain the intricacies of putting together the more complex dance sequences in the film. It too is reasonably interesting but cut far too short.

Menus and chapter stops are provided and while there's no trailer for the feature anywhere to be found, trailers for a few unrelated Universal properties do play before the main menu screen loads. As this is a combo pack release, tucked away inside the Blu-ray case is a DVD version of the movie as well as an insert card containing a code for a Digital HD download version of the film.

Final Thoughts:

Hail, Caesar! isn't as strong as some of the Coen Brothers' other films but their fans, along with those who enjoy looking back on the glory days of the classic Hollywood era, should find much to appreciate here, and the performances are great. Universal's Blu-ray doesn't go as far as you want it to in the extra features department but it's far from bare bones, while the transfer and the lossless audio are both top notch. Recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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