This review first published in the Sunday Star-Times, 6th March 2016
This latest caper by those magnificent Coen Brothers takes us back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, when “aquatic pictures” were a popular artform, and the studio star system made household names out of the forebears of today’s George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum.
In a familiar Coen plot, Hail, Caesar! revolves around the kidnapping of Clooney’s leading man, Baird Whitlock. (The Coens, who also write their own films, clearly love their botched crimes almost as much as naming their characters.) Whitlock is snatched from his trailer by an unlikely sect, but in typically Coenesque fashion, his unexpected response to his captors is more Stockholm Syndrome than moral outrage.
As ever, the film is superbly cast from its protagonist, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), the studio fixer who must keep scandals out of the headlines, to the gossip columnists (Tilda Swinton, playing twins) who roam the manicured lawns at Capitol Pictures, sniffing out an exclusive. Johansson swims; Tatum dances (if we ever needed a successor to Gene Kelly, he’s it).
Throw in small but hilarious roles for Ralph Fiennes and Frances McDormand, and you almost have a sure-fire hit on your hands. “Would that it were so simple,” Fiennes opines, but truth be told, the Coens haven’t quite replicated the sheer brilliance of Fargo or the consistently gripping tone of their Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men.
What they do, however, is effortlessly evoke a bygone era from its set design down to its parlance, and entertain their modern-day audience in spades. Hail, Caesar! has bags of laughs and guileless charm. If you think it gets a bit verbose, you better blame the writers.