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Soundtrack review: Hail Caesar! (Carter Burwell – 2016)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Hail Caesar! (Carter Burwell – 2016)


“Hail, Caesar!” is a 2016 American comedy film written, produced, edited, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. The film stars Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Channing Tatum. The film is a fictional story that follows the real-life “fixer” Eddie Mannix (Brolin) working in the Hollywood film industry in the 1950s, trying to discover what happened to a cast member who vanishes during filming. As always with the Coen brothers movies Carter Burwell writes the score and it will be interesting to hear him going back to their universe just weeks after delivering the very different and quite magnificent “The finest hours”.

I would have thought that the Roman angle was just a metaphor but when I hear the title track with its sparkling Roman horns I think of a movie depicting those times. What Carter Burwell did here is combine his usual brand of Coen brothers sarcastic darkness with some epic Roman motifs. The result is simply spectacular. I know I should be used to this kind of brilliance from this composer but he manages to bring a little extra with every score.

“Hail Caesar!” flows as naturally as if each cue was part of the props of the movie or a supporting character you would only notice when it was gone. The actual score once again makes me glad I am a film music fan; it’s dark, it’s varied and it tip toes in playful and mysterious ways. As always Carter Burwell delivers a composition that inevitably slides towards an (I’m guessing) bloody and bad ending. I could say I am addicted to this sound and to the way the music sometimes sounds as if something was dropped from a great height and is breaking right near me.

My favorite cue is “Faith God damn it!” which is one of the most beautiful pieces this composer has written lately and actually makes me think of “The finest hours”. A cue like this alone and is worth the price of the album.

What hurts the standalone listen of this score (and in the same time, what probably makes great sense in the movie) are the variations that go outside the score… I love the Russian traditional songs, of course, but they break the flow of the album. There are also a couple of big band cues which don’t sound like they belong here and a couple of church choir pieces. When I strip that though and compile a playlist of the regular score I get one of the early favorites of this year and something I will surely return to.

Cue rating: 96 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 28 / 34

Album excellence: 82%



Hail Caesar!

Baird Hijacked

Jonah’s Daughter

Comrades Convene

Malibu Safe House

The Hands of Communists

Little Eddie

Our Father (Performed By Ascention Church Choir – Maloe)

In Pursuit of the Future

Slavery and Suffering (Performed By the Red Army Choir)

Soviet Man

Denizens of the City

Silverman Sax

Faith God Damn It

Back to the Backlot


Echelons Song (Performed By the Red Army Choir)

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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