Hail, Caesar!: Film Review
Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Alden Ehrenreich, Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
The Coen Brothers return to Hollywood with Hail, Caesar!
In a playful ode to Hollywood past, it's the story of Capitol Pictures head Eddie Mannix (a brilliant Josh Brolin) and how his life plays out over one day inside the studio system.
Mannix is a fixer, and his skill-set is needed when George Clooney's Baird Whitlock, the star of the studio's prestige picture, Hail, Caesar (The Tale of The Christ) is kidnapped. With only a brief ransom note purporting to be from The Future, Mannix is racing against the clock to ensure the production's not shut down and Capitol Pictures isn't plunged into anarchy and infamy.
Hail, Caesar! is The Player through a Coens-shaped prism.
Brolin's is hands down the star of the film, the thread that ties together what are essentially a series of well-executed cameos that occasionally threaten to overwhelm the thinnest of narratives to the casual viewer.
Talk of communism that echo Trumbo, the death of the movies with the advent of television and a long debate about spirituality sit alongside a brilliantly executed dance number with Channing Tatum channelling Gene Kelly. It's a flick of polar opposites in many ways, and as light a feast as the Coens have ever served up to us.
And yet on the surface, the film is a frothy ode to 1930s era surroundings; a film that revels in its gloriously recreated ethics and which delights in its re-staging of motifs you'd recognise from the pantheon of Hollywood's finest. A water set dance number with Scarlett Johansson oozes with panache and prestige but sits at odds with the drama that's unfolding around it; and while Mannix's push to solve everyone's problems is the main drive of the film, the zigzagging and meandering means the journey to the end is nothing short of occasionally frustrating.
Thankfully, some of the motifs of the latest Coens' film stays with you after the lights have gone up and once the thrill of Clooney playing Charlton Heston and Brolin playing a version of a real life Hollywood fixer has washed over you, the themes begin to surface and the perception that it's a patchwork pastiche of a collection of cameos and scenes subsides.
In its own perverse way, it's escapism of the purest level, as the studio's desires to detract from the depression and the threat of the Cold War are recreated for us to behold.
Hail, Caesar! is something more than a love letter to Hollywood though; it's an iceberg of a film, an under the surface look at the politics and ideology of the times with a few dance numbers thrown in and talk of the H Bomb to distract you.
It's a smoke and mirrors kind of film that is as frothy as it comes and dawdles on its way, lacking some of the tightness and pay-off you'd expect, but works thanks to grizzled Brolin's determination and whose arc sees him being tempted outside of Hollywood as he deals to the daily concerns. (Something many of the time would have faced with the impending demise of Hollywood, a threat we know never came to pass but whose image would be tarnished with the problems).
Not every journey is as successful and some off camera resolutions feel forced, slight and narratively cheating. Of the cast, Ehrenreich is perhaps the revelation as Hobie Doyle, a John Wayne-esque simpleton of a hillbilly chosen for his looks, his lassoing ways and his sex appeal. The scenes where Ralph Fiennes tries to direct him are a joy to behold, dripping in frustration and working against the clock.
Ultimately, Hail, Caesar! may not at initial sight be among the Coens' finest efforts, but thanks to its cohorts of cameos, its perfect casting and spot-on recreations as well as its scratch-the-surface message, it's still a cinematic sweet treat, if you're willing to forego and forgive its excesses and flimsinesses.