A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio’s stars in line.
The Coen brothers latest film is an ensemble piece set in the Golden Age of 1950s Hollywood, built around a series of strong performances and fun recreations of the type of movies made during that period. The love of the time period comes through in the production and the homages are uniformly terrific with the Coen’s quirky characterisation well suited to this kind of material. ‘Hail, Caesar!’ is the perfect vehicle for the Coen’s offbeat style of humour and I look forward to seeing them do more ensemble pieces going forward.
The film takes a ‘day in the life’ approach as we follow studio head Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) as he drops in on different sets whilst trying to manage a variety of problems. The film’s marketing material may focus primarily on George Clooney’s dim-witted actor Baird Whitlock, but Mannix is the central figure as we follow him putting out fires whilst contemplating a lucrative job offer in a less stressful industry. Brolin is excellent, essentially playing the straight man to everyone else’s brand of crazy and the problems he faces include trying to keep the studio’s prestige picture (‘Hail, Caesar!’ of the title) on track when the star (Clooney) goes missing, managing an up and coming western star (Alden Ehrenreich) into a serious drama he is clearly unsuitable for and trying to find a way to cover up the pregnancy of a lucrative starlet (Scarlett Johansson). Some of the segments work better than others, but the film moves around sets and characters with such speed that there’s always a great scene around the corner. The story itself is less important than the individual vignettes, which is just as well as it doesn’t really hold together all that well. The primary strand focusing on Whitlock’s kidnapping shows its hand early on and it was difficult to care or be all that surprised at the reveal of the inside man.
Out of the rest of the cast, relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich is a real find as western star Hobie Doyle, and his first scene with Ralph Fiennes very proper English director is hilarious. Frances McDormand’s cameo delivers one of the funniest scenes and Tilda Swinton relishes a turn as twin sister gossip columnists (clearly based on Hedda Hopper). The nods to real life cinematic history are particularly enjoyable, most obviously through the characters and productions based on real actors and real films, but also in the subtler moments such as a Roman character appearing with a lisp (a la ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’ for those unaware of that masterpiece). And that’s essentially what makes ‘Hail, Caesar!‘ really enjoyable for me. Whilst the story itself isn’t amongst their most compelling, the world the Coen’s have crafted is a lot of fun to spend time in and there’s a lot to love about the depiction of 50s Hollywood for movie lovers everywhere. I really enjoyed it.
Directed By: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Alden Ehrenreich, Alison Pill, Veronica Osorio, Emily Beecham, Clancy Brown, Fred Melamed, Wayne Knight, Heather Goldenhersh, Christopher Lambert, Max Baker, Patrick Fischler, David Krumholtz, Alex Karpovsky, Robert Picardo, Natasha Bassett, John Bluthal, Dolph Lundgren and Michael Gambon