For months, fans of Oscar-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen — so, really, fans of movies in general — have been wondering, with great anticipation, just what the pair's upcoming Hail, Caesar! is all about. It's been teased as a musical comedy, but not really, a period piece about "religion and faith" but also the movie business.
Various combinations of those qualities could apply to any Coen brothers film. The pair is known for black comedies that push the edge of what can be considered "comedy," while still delivering laugh-out-loud moments. The Coens frequently dip into period pieces, and "religion and faith" are common themes throughout their filmography. Their breakout hit, Barton Fink, is set in the same 1940s Hollywood milieu as Hail, Caesar, and their last film, Inside Llewyn Davis, could also fit the description of "a musical comedy, but not really."
Based on its first trailer, Hail, Caesar! already seems like it might be the most Coen-y Coen brothers movie in a long time.
The Coens are working once more with go-to composer Carter Burwell, and main cinematographer Roger Deakins. And the star-studded cast includes several actors who are part of the pair's rotating cast of featured players, including George Clooney, Frances McDormand, and Josh Brolin.
But beyond all those Coen credentials, Hail, Caesar! just looks fun, with screwball and deadpan humor dancing side by side, deft satire, noir inflections, and outsize characters. The only Coen hallmark missing from the trailer is a jolt of sudden, bloody violence — which, going by the tone of this trailer, wouldn't seem completely out of place in the film itself. We'll have to wait until February 5, 2016, to know for sure.
But in the meantime, let's take the opportunity to really study this trailer, and see how it reflects the Coens' established interests. There's no mistaking this as the work of any other filmmakers.
An arrogant man
Coen characters are often proud, arrogant, yet dim-witted men who don't realize what shmucks they truly are (think: Barton Fink, Llewyn Davis, O Brother, Where Art Thou?'s Everett). The sin of pride is one of the filmmakers' preferred themes, and it looks like Josh Brolin's Eddie Mannix, a Hollywood "fixer" — in charge of keeping the studio and its stars free of controversy — will be Hail, Caesar!'s vessel for that theme.
The man who wasn't there
Kidnapping and blackmail are plot points in many, many Coen films, including Blood Simple, Fargo, Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, and Burn After Reading, among (many) others. Hail, Caesar! follows Mannix's attempts to find out what happened to Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the missing star of the studio's big-budget period movie.
And for what? For a little bit of money.
Perhaps the only theme the Coens hit harder than pride is greed, and how it can cause characters to abandon their moral codes. In fact, it's hard to think of a Coen brothers film that doesn't address greed in some way or another. It doesn't seem like that will be the main theme of Hail, Caesar, but anytime there's a briefcase of money involved, you can be sure someone's morals are getting compromised.
This guy walks in…
The Coens have never been shy about expressing their film-noir influences, going all the way back to their debut, Blood Simple. Many of their films could be called neo-noir, or at least hark back to the genre's 1940s and '50s prime in some way or another. Hail, Caesar! looks to go all-in on hardboiled crime, right down to the shadowy offices and men in trench coats and hats.
Nothing more foolish than a man
The Coens have done straight comedy (Raising Arizona) and straight drama (their Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men), but most of their films exist in a middle ground between the two, incorporating slapstick and screwball elements into a darker story. As has often been the case with his Coen collaborations, George Clooney looks to be Caesar's resident screwball, cavorting through the entire movie in Roman emperor garb and a haircut that feels like a direct callback to his ER days.
Yeah, that's a good one
The Coens clearly love language. Their florid scripts are frequently adorned with subtle wordplay and inspired turns of phrase. This attention to language extends to the most minor of details, like the clapper featuring the name of director "Laurence Laurentz."
Dream I had once...
The Coens love a good dream or fantasy sequence. And Hail, Caesar's Hollywood milieu offers plenty of opportunities for production numbers of some sort. The glimpses we see of Scarlett Johansson's Esther Williams-esque starring role nod toward one of the Coens' most beloved fantasy sequences, The Big Lebowski's "Just Dropped In."
The Coens abide
One of the ongoing pleasures of being a Coen brothers fan is seeking out the references and callbacks they leave in their work for fans to find and scrutinize. Whether or not it's intentional on the Coens' part, fans of their Intolerable Cruelty probably recognized this shot as an homage to Miles Massey, Clooney's pearly-whites-obsessed character in that 2003 film.
Okay, admittedly, this has nothing to do with the Coens. But look at it. It's glorious. Is it February 5 yet?