“Hail, Caesar!” opens today, Joel and Ethan Coen’s hotly anticipated follow-up to 2013’s mournful and beautiful “Inside Llewyn Davis.” The Coens have cultivated a habit of following their more somber dramatic works with madcap comic exercises (see: “Raising Arizona” following “Blood Simple,” “The Big Lebowski” as the stoney palate cleanser after “Fargo,” “No Country for Old Men” leading into “Burn After Reading”), and although the jury is still out on whether or not “Hail, Caesar!” is a truly great Coen Brothers movie, it looks to be very much in keeping with that established formula. The Coens have always peppered their work with loving and self-aware references to old Hollywood productions, so to see them set their comic sights on the pomposity and decadence of this faded old world is a very exciting prospect indeed.
Since “Hail, Caesar!” is the Coen’s seventeenth film, there’s a temptation to look back on the broad expanse of their career: how far they’ve come as stylists and storytellers, and what themes have remained consistent throughout their work. In a new video from somersetVII that examines the Coen’s filmography in its entirety – beginning with their ghoulish, lo-fi debut “Blood Simple” and going up until “Inside Llewyn Davis” – we are treated to an expertly assembled visual précis of the pet themes that have occupied these two artists over the course of three decades.
“The fact is, nothin’ comes with a guarantee,” goes the booming, familiar voice of M. Emmett Walsh, who played perhaps the sleaziest private dick in cinema history in “Blood Simple.” “Now I don’t care if you’re the Pope of Rome, President of the United States or Man of the Year. Somethin’ can all go wrong.” Of course, this is a line from the Coen’s first feature film, but in a way, it’s a theme they’ve never really left behind. The seemingly neverending capacity for human error has informed pretty much every single film they’ve ever done together, from the half-baked criminal “plans” executed by the dense thugs of “Fargo” to the penniless, short-tempered Llewyn Davis failing his way through the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene. You can’t say the brothers let their characters off the hook too often – and if they do, it’s never easy.
Some have unfairly accused the Coens of taking pleasure in torturing their protagonists – which is easy enough, since the brothers have openly stated that they enjoyed putting Larry Gopnik from “A Serious Man” through the ringer. And yet this overly punitive view of their work ultimately prevents one from absorbing the layered themes of mysticism, absurdity and serendipity that run through all their films, particularly “A Serious Man” and “Miller’s Crossing.” You wouldn’t exactly call them humanists, but they’ve also given us some of cinema’s most memorable characters in the form of Barton Fink, Marge Gunderson, The Dude and Anton Chigurh.
The video, set to the sounds of both “S.O.B.” by Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats and also Bob Dylan’s “House of the Rising Sun,” is also unerring in its attention to the heightened visual detail that threads through all of the Coens’ work. It’s a great excuse to revisit three decade’s worth of great cinema, and to get pumped for “Hail, Caesar!”
Watch “Coens|30” below. “Hail, Caesar!” hits theatres this Friday, February 5th.