Joel and Ethan Coen have staked out their own small corner of the Hollywood scene, one where they work uninterrupted, tinkering away in the dark. Sometimes it feels like they aren’t a part of Hollywood at all. A Coen Brothers announcement always surprises me despite their steady output these past three decades. They’re independent filmmakers who just happen to attract the best talent in the industry, a duo that has moviemaking down pat. Each movie feels small yet large, possessing the intimacy of art and the grandiosity of spectacle. One watches their movies in awe of just how seamlessly they are crafted. All but two of their eighteen directorial features have been based off of original ideas, and none of them have felt tired or half-baked or derivative. Joel and Ethan Coen are my favorite directors working today, and the first trailer for their new film, “Hail, Caesar!” has been released.
The plot of “Hail, Caesar!” looks to be this: Eddie Mannix, a Hollywood producer, is busy overseeing the production of his studio’s newest “prestige picture,” an ancient Roman epic starring Baird Whitlock, the hot star of the era. Suddenly, Whitlock goes missing, and it’s up to Mannix to navigate anxious actors, nosy columnists, and a secret society called “The Future” in his attempts to get the movie finished.
I’ve always been on the fence when it comes to this question: Funny Coens or Serious Coens? When it comes to comedy, they’ve been hit (“The Big Lebowski,” “Raising Arizona”) and miss (“The Ladykillers,” “Burn After Reading”). For my money, there’s yet to be a subpar Coen Brothers drama, although “True Grit” was lackluster. But after watching this trailer, I couldn’t be more excited to see the finished product. It’s gorgeous, funny, and vibrant, and it’s clear that the Coens’ signature character work is stronger than ever. I don’t know if it’s the writing or directing (probably both), but from only two minutes of assorted clips, almost every character feels new and exciting and unique.
This film reunites the Coen Brothers with George Clooney, marking their fourth project together. In “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Clooney shed his suave persona for a much goofier, less flattering personality. He was a riot in that film, as well as his next two collaborations with the Coens. This is the conclusion of the “numbskull trilogy,” coined by Clooney himself to describe the movies “Intolerable Cruelty,” “Burn After Reading,” and now “Hail, Caesar!” These are probably my favorite performances by Clooney, who’s usually so inward as an actor that his outward buffoonery is startling yet welcome, a wholly pleasant change of pace.
As great as the rest of the cast looks in theory, it somehow looks even better in practice. Some of these casting choices, such as Ralph Fiennes as a pompous director and Scarlett Johansson as a movie starlet, are absolutely inspired, and appear to pay off in a big way. Tilda Swinton looks ridiculous in the best way possible as a gossip columnist. There’s not much left to say about Josh Brolin—he’s been on an absolute tear the past few years—but I have a feeling he’s going to knock this one out of the park.
This film also reunites the Coen Brothers with cinematographer Roger Deakins, after he was unable to shoot their last film, “Inside Llewyn Davis.” The film looked gorgeous even without Deakins, but after seeing this trailer, taking in the visuals and the dialogue, there’s something about Deakins and the Coens that complement each other so well. According to Deakins, this will be his last movie shot on film. I was apprehensive at first, seeing as he’s been creating some of the most indeible and beautiful visual artistry of the past thirty years, all on film. But after seeing “Sicario,” which he shot digitally, I have no fear that he’ll continue his streak of excellence well beyond 2016.
I could not be more excited for “Hail, Caesar!” This trailer is funny yet intriguing. It’s mysterious while also giving a rough idea of what the whole movie is going to be about. The Coen Brothers, even in their failures (as rare as they may be), have always managed to be entertaining and interesting filmmakers. Many of their characters are ignorant, stupid, incompetent, or sometimes all three. This film looks to be populated by the dumb, the goofy, the utterly hapless. But Joel and Ethan Coen have done it time and time again, amassing a filmography unrivaled in modern American cinema. I have no doubt that “Hail, Caesar!” will continue that trend. After all, it takes a genius to write an idiot.
Written by Lucas Dispoto