Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand.
Written, Produced and Directed by: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Cert: 12A Running Time: 106 mins
When the Coen brothers last wielded their pens in the direction of Hollywood they delivered a dark satire on the screenwriters’ experience in the land of dreams in the 1940’s with Barton Fink. Twenty-five years on, Hollywood is again their muse, this time in the golden age of the 1950’s, celebrated and poked at with mirth and giddy pleasure in Hail Caesar!, a love letter of sorts to the escapist magic Hollywood created so spectacularly in those good ole days.
Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, Head of Physical Production at Capitol Pictures (also the studio featured in Barton Fink), a fixer who is about to have one hell of a day. When Hollywood star and studio darling Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped from the set of his latest sword and sandals epic Hail Caesar, A Tale of Christ, it’s up to Eddie to track him down and restore order to the lot before anyone finds out. But he has other things to worry about too. Swimming starlet DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), twice divorced and now pregnant needs a career fix fast, while prestige English film director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) is struggling with matinee idol Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) whom the studio have taken out of his usual cowboy comfort zone and into prestige drama ‘Merrily We Dance’.
There’s a lot going on and at times Hail Caesar! feels like lots of brilliant scenes edited together rather than one linear smoothly constructed story. Much like Mannix’ daily task of fielding trouble and bouncing from one problem to the next, so too do the Coens, skipping merrily between characters and scenes, leaving the film a little disjointed but no less enjoyable. What makes it so much fun to watch is those nuggets of Coen comedy brilliance. A scene in which Laurentz feeds a line to Hobie over and over again in a battle of pronunciation is hilarious, as is Mannix having a sit down with the local religious leaders to ensure none take offence to the rendering of Christ in the new film raising philosophical debate that is pure Coen genius.
Regular Director of Photographer Roger Deakins does a remarkable job in bringing that old fashioned Hollywood polish to every gilded frame and the production design and costumes are glorious in recreating the style of the time. The Coen’s clearly love what they do and through Mannix (and a brilliant performance from Brolin) they take us behind the scenes of that gloss and glamour and the madness that pervades yet hypnotises all who are part of it.
Clooney, who was one of the first to take a seat at the table when the project was being conceived almost a decade ago, plays not only a brilliant idiot who’ll make you smile at the arch of an eyebrow, but a true star playing a star, who can bring the charm, regaling his captors with his show biz tales (including a very funny insight into Danny Kaye). Tilda Swinton is impeccable in the dual role of twin gossip columnists Thessaly and Thora Thacker and Tatum is the man to bring that touch of Gene Kelly, with his tongue firmly set in his cheek. However, it’s newer face Alden Ehrenreich who manages to steal the show as Hobie Doyle. Perhaps it’s the scenario but he is a star in the making.
If you love the movies and in particular that golden age of Hollywood, you’ll love this. The Coens have structured a slightly chaotic slice of old school glamour that absolutely befits the beast it represents.