HAIL, CAESAR! (UK | USA/12A/106mins)
Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen. Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum
THE PLOT: In 1950s Hollywood, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) works as a ‘Fixer’ for Capitol Studios. It’s Mannix’s job to make sure the studio retains its reputation, but between negotiating a portrayal of Jesus in the upcoming ‘Hail Caesar’ with religious heads, making a gentrified star of Western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) and covering up the pregnancy of DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), Mannix is considering a job change. The sudden abduction of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) – star of “Hail Ceasar” – makes everything more complicated, especially with reporters Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton) on the hunt for their next big stories.
THE VERDICT: The Coen Brothers turn their eye back to the underbelly of Hollywood – after 1991’s ‘Barton Fink’ – but this time, in trying to tell the story of a man holding a Hollywood studio together, the filmmakers seem to get lost in loving homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood, and forget to tell an actual story.
Josh Brolin does his best with the character of Eddie Mannix, and while he has some hilarious lines, and is the presence that holds the film together, he actually does not have a lot to do, other than move from one scene to the next. George Clooney amps up the absurdity as the kidnapped Baird Whitlock, Scarlett Johansson has fun with a thick-accented, seemingly innocent starlet, Channing Tatum dances up a storm as Burt Gurney and Tilda Swinton plays fast talking, nosy twin reporters. The rest of the cast is littered with familiar names, including Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand, Alison Pill and Alden Ehrenreich. The trouble is that while each of the cast does their best with their roles, they are let down by a meandering and incoherent script.
Written, as per usual, but Joel and Ethan Coen, Hail, Caesar! seems to be more concerned with making sure the details are right in this Hollywood homage, than telling an actual story. Dance sequences and synchronised swimming showstoppers abound – the latter lovingly created in the style of Busby Berkeley – but these literally stop the story from moving forward. With Mannix trying to hold so many plates in the air, and the audience learning virtually nothing about this central character – the entire affair descends into a bitty, beautiful mess.
As directors, the Coens have once again coaxed wonderful performances from their cast – although the casting of Tilda Swinton as twins feels a little stunty; perhaps trying to outdo Wes Anderson for casting her as an elderly lady in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’!? – and each gives their best to the role. The trouble is that in trying to pay homage to days gone by, and so many real life people – such as Hedda Hopper, Gene Kelly, EJ Mannix and Esther Williams – that the film needed a tighter edit to make it coherent.
In all, ‘Hail, Caesar!’ looks wonderful, sounds great and has a fantastic cast, but they are let down by a storyline that is muddled, messy and incoherent.
RATING: 2.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Hail, Caesar!
Review by Brogen Hayes
2.5A pretty mess
  • filmbuff2011

    Hail, Caesar! sees the idiosyncratic Joel and Ethan Coen assembling various parts of their greatest hits to form an amusingly sly satire on golden-era Hollywood. It’s also one of their funniest films in a good while.

    Hollywood in the 1950s. Eddie (Josh Brolin) is head of production at Capitol Pictures. It’s not an easy job. He has to negotiate various stars and their tantrums, moaning directors who can’t get along with their stars, along with twin gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton, modelled on Hedda Hopper – who also appeared recently in Trumbo). While being tempted with an offer of an apparently easier job at Lockheed, he has to contend with a missing star. Baird (George Clooney) is the lead in the studio’s prestige picture, a Roman epic called Hail, Caesar! A Story Of The Christ. The dim-witted Baird is abducted by a group of men who sit in a lounge by the sea talking politics and how they can influence Hollywood to their own ends. Key to the resolution of Baird’s disappearance is good ‘ol boy Hobie (Alden Ehrenreich), a dim-bulb cowboy who has been horribly miscast in an English chamber piece directed by the fussy Laurence (Ralph Fiennes). Also in the mix is actress/dancer/mermaid DeeAnna (Scarlett Johansson) and actor/dancer/sailor Burt (Channing Tatum). Eddie is going to have control them all if he wants to get things back in order and the film back on track…

    Featuring the same studio as in Barton Fink, Hail, Caesar! finds the Coen Brothers poking fun at films of that era, like those gloriously overlong and operatic swords-and-sandals films that were ten-a-penny back then. The recreation of production methods of that era is spot-on, right down to painted backdrops and magnificently over-choreographed song and dance numbers. The Coens are having a lot of fun here and audiences should certainly enjoy the ride. Pretty? Yes. A mess? No. It’s a well-constructed film, with neatly paced asides that show what else is going in the studio. Those asides may not seem relevant at first, but there’s a purpose to them. The film’s signature scene is Laurence trying to direct Hobie to say one line simply, or rather ‘would that it twere so simple’. Brilliant. No wonder Hollywood seems like a madhouse.

    An impressive cast rise to the challenge of the script, which features some brilliant throwaway gags (watch out for the scene involving the projectionist, played by Frances McDormand). Playing another of the Coens’ idiots, Clooney is spot-on as an over-pampered, self-loving actor. But it’s the wonderful Ehrenreich who steals the show with his sweet, innocent cowboy caught up in an almighty mess. This isn’t a biting Hollywood satire like The Bad And The Beautiful or The Player. It’s more affectionate and knowing, moving towards a very movie-style ending. Welcome to Planet Coen Brothers. It’s always a joy to visit and Hail, Caesar! finds them on great form as usual. After the sombre Inside Llewyn Davis, this is a real treat. ****