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dir-scr Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
prd Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
with Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Heather Goldenhersh, Veronica Osorio, Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill, Alison Pill
release US 5.Feb.16, UK 4.Mar.16
16/US Universal 1h46
One step ahead: Swinton and Brolin
BERLIN FILM FEST
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Much cleverer than it looks, this silly romp is both a paean to an era when Hollywood produced a wide variety of movies and a sharp jab at today's more commercialistic studios. Along the way, the Coen brothers recreate each genre with a knowing mixture of fondness and wit, encouraging the actors to shamelessly steal every scene.
At Capitol Pictures in 1951, Eddie (Brolin) has the difficult task of keeping all of the productions running while putting out every public relations fire before twin gossip columnists (Swinton, doubled) can report them. Major star Baird (Clooney) has been kidnapped by communist writers from the set of his Roman epic. Water-ballet diva DeeAnna (Johansson) is unmarried and pregnant. And rising-star Western actor Hobie (Ehrenreich) is struggling to make the transition to drama, clashing with imperious director Laurence (Fiennes). Maybe Eddie should accept a less stressful job offer outside the movie industry.
Over 24 hours, the story darts between sound stages and epic outdoor sets where a movies are being made in a variety of genres. There's even an exhilarating song and dance number involving sailors (led by a riotously energetic Tatum) bemoaning the lack of women on their ship, or maybe not. Each scene is written, directed and played with hilarious attention to detail, catching the amusing contrast between chaotic stage work and the glamorous final product. Although the Coens are too smart for their own good: this is knowingly witty rather than riotously wacky.
That subtle approach suits the actors. Clooney is wonderful as the moronic star who hasn't a clue what's going on, even during his huge emotional scene at Christ's crucifixion. Swinton, Johansson and Fiennes bring prickly energy as exasperated people who simply don't hear what anyone says. Aside from his big musical number, Tatum offers a hysterical pastiche of war-movie heroics. And McDormand walks off with the film in one terrific scene. Meanwhile, Brolin and Ehrenreich have the more engaging roles, bringing surprising textures to seemingly simplistic characters.
And perhaps that is the problem: the entire film feels seemingly simplistic. But this is another Hollywood illusion. The Coens are saying serious things even as they poke fun at the ideals of both communism and capitalism through the lens of a film camera. At its core, this movie is as pointed as their unheralded masterpiece A Serious Man, exploring motivations and meaning in a chaotic world. And it also makes us miss the days when Hollywood had more on its mind than franchises.
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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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