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Hail, Caesar! by Carter Burwell (Review)

posted Mar 4, 2016, 10:26 PM by Koray Savas

Hail, Caesar! is refreshing in that it reunites the Coen brothers with cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Carter Burwell, who were both absent from their 60s folk tale, Inside Llewyn Davis. Effectively making it 6 years since their last film together, 2010's adaptation of True Grit. Regardless, these brilliant filmmakers quickly fell back into their typical short hand, particularly with Burwell, whose score compliments the film quite well by establishing the tone for it all.

The film follows Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix, as he tries to keep the studio's actors in line while struggling with his own personal dilemmas. While on the set of their latest production, Hail, Caesar!, star Baird Whitlock is drugged and kidnapped for ransom money by a communist cult of industry writers and actors. The plot is simple enough, but the Coens inject their signature dry wit and humanization into the proceedings. Unfortunately, the lack of any real story progression prevents the film from achieving their usual greatness. This is where Burwell steps in, as the music here is an integral aspect of the film's setting and mood. The score accents the characters as it normally would, but also provides music for the films that are being made by them. This homogenous blend of old style Hollywood horns and Burwell's own melancholic sound often gives the film its humorous tone. Specifically with the theme for the communists, complete with Russian choir and robust orchestration (hear "Soviet Man"). The main theme for Mannix's career and family troubles is a simple melody that starts on subtle piano ("5 A.M.") and finishes with a bit more substance with strings and brass ("Denizens Od The City"). To complete the package, the album includes a handful of original songs from the musicals being made in the film, as well as Russian source music in the vein of Burwell's own compositions.

While Burwell's score fits the film and sells the humor, it does not amount to much on its own. The simplicity in the thematic development is a signature staple for Burwell and the Coens, but it doesn't seem to achieve the same success here due to the film's truncated story structure and lack of well defined characters. The narrative is too fleeting and that missing link in the writing is unfortunately reflected in the score as a result.