As fantastic filmmakers as Joel and Ethan Coen are, some may find a few of their films incidental, but is there really such a thing when it comes to the Coen brothers? They can’t all be Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men, or even True Grit, but there’s always something larger looming about a Coen brothers’ film. Even their fluff pieces are way better than most other directors’ serious outings. Try and tell me Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers, or Burn After Reading aren’t hilarious. So, where exactly does their ode to old Hollywood, Hail, Caesar! fall? More in line with the latter, but it ain’t no slouch either.
At Capitol Pictures, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is the man with the plan. A studio fixer, he’s always around to keep the well-oiled machine running no matter what cog gets thrown in the wheel. His latest conundrum is the disappearance of their biggest star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) who is being held for ransom by “The Future.” Meanwhile, he’s tackling everything else thrown in his path from covering up the husbandless star DeeAnna Moran’s (Scarlett Johansson) pregnancy to director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) dealings with cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) to the endless barrage of twin columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton on double duty) trying to find a scoop on Whitlock’s extracurricular activities. All this while facing a possible career change for the sake of his family.
Hail, Caesar! farces up Blu-ray with a spectacular transfer. Would we expect anything less coming from the Coens and cinematographer Roger Deakins? Of course not. Presented in 1.85:1, everything about this 35mm shoot shines in hi-def. From the extravagantly detailed costumes to the cast’s hair and makeup. There does seem to be some post color grading giving a lot of scenes a bronzed appearance, but it’s surely so that the tone of the film comes through in the filmmaking and not just the screenplay. Blacks are nice and inky, with just a hint of occasional intentional crush, but there’s nary another anomaly to be found. No aliasing or banding here, folks.
While the 5.1 DTS-HD track may be front heavy — with the dialogue crisp — it does find time for some expert surround use. Panning also comes in handy during some of the more frenetic scenes — like Channing Tatum’s big dance number — and the bass gets to rattle the walls when a submarine makes an appearance. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, and Spanish, with additional audio in French and Spanish 5.1 DTS.
Considering the subject matter, it’s a little surprising that the special features department comes up sparse. Everything is typical EPK covering everything from the characters and screenplay: “The Stars Align” (11:34), to the sets and costumes: “An Era of Glamour” (6:22), and a look at the film’s old school charm: “Magic of a Bygone Era” (6:01). It’s clear everyone loves and adores the Coen brothers — don’t we all — so it’s a little ironic to hear Brolin talk about how people love special features because they give you a little glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes. “A little glimpse” certainly fits the bill here. Not even the trailer is included, but it does come in a DVD/Digital Copy combo pack.
Hail, Caesar! may feel like a case of Coen-lite, but it’s still one of the year’s funniest comedies. Packed with some of the best dialogue spoken by many of today’s top stars, there’s not much to dislike here. The film can feel a little long in the tooth, but most of the film flies by. This will likely go down as one of the year’s best films you didn’t see. But, now that it’s out on Blu-ray, here’s your chance to play catch up. Hail, Caesar! is another winning addition to the rapidly growing arsenal of why the Coen brothers continue to be two of the most rightfully lauded filmmakers today.