I went in to this disposed to like it – I’ve loved most of the Coen Brothers’ films – and I got what I wanted.
Hail, Caesar! is funny and crazy and affectionate for its subject of 1950s Hollywood,
where stars have to be seen to be stars and to conform to what a start “ought to be”, according to the standards of the day. And Josh Brolin’s character, Eddie Mannix, is the man with the job of making sure that Capitol Pictures’ stars do what the studio expects, and that any scandals are hushed up.
It also gives the Coen Brothers a chance to play with some old Hollywood tropes that need a movie like this to provide a platform – where else could you get an Esther Williams water ballet, a barroom dance routine with sailors, and a biblical epic all on the same screen? And they all work.
If I have one criticism it’s that some of the storylines don’t really go anywhere – the Scarlett Johansen one seems primarily there to justify the water ballet which otherwise wouldn’t have a place – but I was more than happy to go along with the ride.
George Clooney does a solid turn as goofy megastar Baird Whitlock (what a perfect name for that character – how long did they take to come up with something that sounds so right?) and Channing Tatum gets another chance to show his versatility as the lead dancing sailor. On top of all that is Tilda Swinton, perfectly cast as twin gossip columnists.
Two standout scenes, one involving a multi-faith discussion on the appropriate depiction of God in a movie, and the best scene which consists of little more dialogue than the words “Would that it were so simple”, boucing back and forth between Ralph Fiennes’ director Laurence Lawrentz (another character name that triggers a joke) and Alden Ehrenreich as cowboy star Hobie Doyle, suddenly thrust into a tuxedo for a role in a melodrama. It’s funny in itself, and provides a good illustration of how a great actor like Fiennes speaks words in a way the rest of us simply can’t.
This film about film was so much fun, another welcome addition to the list of Coen Brothers entertainments.