Hail, Caesar – Review
The Coen Brothers are amongst the most critically acclaimed filmmakers of the last three decades having worked in a range of genre, whilst their films maintain a unique identity that categorises their individuality as artists. They are regarded as a pair of western cinemas most highly skilled writers and directors, and as such have garnered massive success. So it is hardly a surprise to see Hail, Caesar packed with A – list talent throughout the entire ensemble, attracted to performing in the work of modern American cinema’s finest creators.
Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a producer/fixer for Capitol pictures, a top studio in Hollywood, and is caught up in a conspiracy when Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the star of Capitol’s latest biblical epic Hail, Caesar, is kidnapped. Mannix needs to retrieve his big name star whilst also dealing with the problems of everyone else at his studio from directors and actors, to gossip columnists, and manic editors.
To say the plot strays in Hail, Caesar would be inaccurate, as it more often intrudes on the fascinating madcap misdeeds of the populace of capitol pictures. The narrative is swept aside so that we can be entreated to aquatic symphony sequences with DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), a song and dance number featuring Hobie Doyle (Channing Tatum), and watch as acclaimed thespian director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) attempts to draw a nuanced acting display from western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), the results of which left me in a fit of laughter I could aptly describe as painful. These entertaining interludes are the highlight of the film both satirising and paying homage to the golden age of Hollywood. The films setting at the beginning of the 1950s allows it to analyse the declining years of the studio system, and the effect this caused on Hollywood produced cinema. As well as poke fun at the media frenzy surrounding taboo subjects of the time such as homosexuality, pregnancy outside of wedlock, and communist sympathisers, with Tilda Swinton pulling double duty portraying a pair of twins, who happen to be rival journalists.
The films narrative is somewhat unimportant in the grand scheme, with Mannix’s personal guilt being a somewhat amusing side note but is also seemingly arbitrary, and against the ludicrous insanity of the ensemble uninteresting. Brolin’s performance is entertaining, showing nice comic touches, and his efforts in displaying Mannix’s weariness and guilt are impressive, if not supremely effective in the narrative. The ensemble as a whole are ferociously energetic, and the rhythm of the scenes is always flawless, a credit to the cast and the work of the Coen’s direction, writing and editing.
Hail, Caesar is effectively a collection of entertaining scenes recalling a dubiously fascinating period in Hollywood’s history, the majority of which are consistently hilarious. That Hail, Caesar never really rises above this is, I suppose, a criticism, though I do still enjoy the film for its entertaining asides and splendidly presented humour. Carter Burwell’s music adds texture to the period setting, without being uniquely splendid, whilst Roger Deakins cinematography captures the various tones of the era beautifully to deliver a visually pleasing tribute of the golden age. I heartily recommend Hail, Caesar as a consistently entertaining comedy buoyed by great performances by Brolin, Johansson, Tatum, Fiennes, and Ehrenreich, and a sharp witted script, that, despite its unfocussed narrative, will entertain you as much as it did me.
*** STARS out of *****
Review by Alexander Halsall