UK Release Date: 4th March 2016
Runtime: 106 minutes
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Writer: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand
Synopsis: When a major Hollywood actor is kidnapped by a shady group, a panicked studio fixer must work to control his crop of paranoid movie stars and keep his various projects ticking over.
The Coen Brothers have been on something of a dark run in recent years. They followed up moody folk music movie Inside Llewyn Davis with script work on POW drama Unbroken and Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies. With that work in mind, their latest outing, Hail, Caesar!, feels like a palate cleanser of a comedy. It’s a breezy, smiley-faced tribute to the golden age of 1950s Hollywood that places its tongue firmly in its cheek and rattles off on a rollercoaster ride through classic cinema.
Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a studio fixer struggling to contain a galaxy of stars with huge personalities. Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), lead performer of a new Biblical epic is kidnapped by a group known only as The Future, which piques the interest of twin gossip columnists (Tilda Swinton). Meanwhile, Mannix tries to help dopey cowboy Hobie (Alden Ehrenreich) transition to a serious role for prestige director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). He must also check in with “aquatic picture” stalwart DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) and dancing sailor Burt (Channing Tatum).
Hail, Caesar! is perhaps the most purely joyous film of the last few years. It’s a wry sideways glance at Hollywood’s so-called golden age. The film’s plot feels almost incidental and a mere excuse to tie together a series of starry skits, featuring the likes of Channing Tatum tap dancing or Scarlett Johansson wearing a mermaid tail. It’s in these skits that the film really finds its groove, with DoP Roger Deakins shooting them in long takes that allow the bedlam of a movie set to unfold. The plot almost feels like an unpleasant distraction when it does take centre stage.
It’s all in the hips, the lips, and the eyes and the thighs.
Unfortunately, that plot does make its presence felt and it’s not entirely welcome. George Clooney gurns for all he’s worth as kidnapped A-lister Baird Whitlock and, although the storyline is a neat jibe at the McCarthyist conspiracy theories swirling around Hollywood at the time, it’s more than a little bit slight. If Clooney was a little grating in Gravity, he’s on exceptionally irritating form here, even if he gets some great moments on the set of the bonkers Biblical film within a film.
The star of Hail, Caesar! is, in fact, the least starry member of its cast. Alden Ehrenreich, previously best known for minor roles in Stoker and Blue Jasmine, is nothing short of tremendous as the dim-witted singing cowboy Hobie Doyle. The scene, used for one of the trailers, in which he grapples with a loquacious line of dialogue whilst being directed by Ralph Fiennes, is an early contender for the best big screen moment of the year. Ehrenreich brings a charming simplicity to Hobie, as if he is entirely unaware of the chaos around him. It’s a predicament probably common to many young actors in Hollywood even today.
The galaxy of talented supporting performers are the real beating heart of Hail, Caesar!, making the most of their often minimal screen time. The enormous cast gives the film the ability to refresh itself every ten minutes or so, ensuring that the joke never gets old. Josh Brolin’s harried, frantic performance provides a useful anchor point to link the skits, giving the audience a worthwhile way to enter the madness of the system.
Hey! You’re a communist too?
When the credits roll on Hail, Caesar! it’s tough to decide whether it has worked or not. It’s tough not to be disappointed by the lack of the plot, but it’s equally difficult not to leave the cinema wearing a big, toothy grin at the sheer enthusiasm of it all. This isn’t a film that’s out to change anyone’s life; and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Pop or Poop?
A talented cast and a refreshing sense of joy is enough to rise above meagre story material in Hail, Caeasar!, which is a light-hearted love letter to the history of cinema in all of its campy glory. The Coen Brothers take a break from the gloom of their recent work to create a film that is simply a reflection of their adoration for cinema.
Alden Ehrenreich manages to stand out in the midst of a star-packed ensemble as a singing cowboy, with Josh Brolin a suitable anchor point for it all. Unfortunately, when it all unravels, there’s a lingering stench of disappointment that it doesn’t all fit together a little better.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.