When Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the star of one of Hollywood’s prestige pictures vanishes from set, fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) must use all his sleight of hand to stave off the tabloids, the egos, and financial backers to finish the project unscathed.
“Would that it were so simple.”
Hail, Caesar! (HC) is a love letter to classic Hollywood that feels born out of the restrained stuffiness of Bridge of Spies. The Coen Brothers serious and solemn tale of Cold War was allegorically about the slow retardation of international politics and the devolving of diplomacy. There’s a strange yearning in Bridge of Spies for the days where two towering super powers, equally capable of annihilating the other had to talk it out or ensure total destruction. The Coens are in total reactionary mode here; pulling out the tiger’s teeth and making the enemies and obstacles nothing compared to what they seem. Dropping the audience into the titular production – a Ben Hur stand in – where sweaty, misshapen extras agonise and plot to take the star of the show. Their organisation, ‘the future,’ are framed through this absurd world and they’re about as threatening as body pillow.
The real beauty of HC is the flurries of style, the vacations to the particular aesthetics, framing, staging and music of the films surrounding and informing the story at hand. This is the filmic version of a Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake “History of Rap” but their love letter hits hardest for old Hollywood geeks. Roger Deakins joins the Coen Brothers once again injecting a golden warmth to the golden age. And in one magnificent moment, giving the hallowed grounds of a classic studio with half assembled props the quiet melancholy of an ancient ruin.
Josh Brolin agonises about staying in the chaos and yet the beauty of the character is just how inconsequential his personal agony is. He’s amazing at his job, he’s cutting down on a smoking habit and doesn’t get any grief from his perfect little picture of fifties house wife. It’s the allegations of homosexuality, communist allegiance and threats that the salacious behaviour of his stars is eventually going to get out of hand. Ralph Fiennes steps into HC and destroys for every nanosecond that he’s on screen. The scene that appeared in one of the trailers; “would that it were so simple,” gets more outrageous with every piece of advice, coaching and guidance that misses the mark. Alden Ehrenreich’s Hobie Doyle is a sensational horse riding dullard turned studio pet project. Ehrenreich balances difficulty with articulating thoughts with a sweetness that makes him the perfectly innocent and inevitably corruptible inclusion to Mannix’s menagerie.
Channing Tatum was a huge surprise as Burt Gurney. It’s obvious that he’s got that showmanship that perfectly injects him into that musical world.Tilda Swinton is incredible and if you’re sick of me (or anyone else for that matter) saying this I formally challenge you to a duel. As two identical twin film publication investigative journalists, Thora and Thessaly Thacker, you may die of being in love with the idea or from a lisp pronouncing their names. The cameo from Francis McDormand as the chain smoking, neckerchief wearing film editor nearly had me dying; at the point she almost strangled herself.
Channing Tatum musical numbers, grandiose George Clooney doing Charlton Heston-esque speeches, Scarlett Johanssen as a synchronised swimming mermaid and Ralph Fiennes as the English thespian turned master director are fun; but it’s a dog whistle. Watching this film as a classic cinephile, you’re going to have a whale of a time; if you’re not, you’ll probably only manage a snicker.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Written and Directed by: Ethan and Joel Coen
Josh Brolin: Eddie Mannix
George Clooney: Baird Whitlock
Channing Tatum: Burt Gurney
Alden Ehrenreich: Hobie Doyle
Ralph Fiennes: Laurence Laurentz
Scarlett Johansson: DeeAnne Moran
Tilda Swinton: Thora and Thessaly Thacker
Frances McDormand: CC Calhoun