The Watchers

The Watchers

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Review: Hail, Caesar! (UK Cert 12A)

Twenty-five years after Barton Fink, the Coen Brothers return to the world of the movies for their latest film Hail, Caesar!

Hollywood in the 1950s. Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a fixer for Capitol Pictures studios, keeping any scandalous stories about the stars out of the press. However, when Baird Whitlock (George Clooney)- star of Capitol's latest prestige picture Hail, Caesar! A Tale Of The Christ- is kidnapped, Mannix must try and get the actor back before the press find out. 

There are a lot of competing storylines throughout the film- as well as trying to find a kidnapped star, Mannix has to deal with an unmarried pregnant ingenue (Scarlett Johannson), an actor best known for Western pictures suddenly placed in a period drama (Alden Ehrenreich) as well as fielding off twin gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton) whilst on the hunt for Whitlock. He also has to deal with a job offer from aerospace company Lockheed which would give stability but take him away from the movie business. 

Because there's so much going on, several of the roles amount to little more than glorified cameos, with Jonah Hill and frequent Coen collaborator Frances McDormand particularly shortchanged. That said, performances are generally solid across the board, with a strong and stoic performance by Brolin in the lead. Mannix is a tough guy, determined to keep his stars in line and not afraid to let them know their place and their responsibilities, but there's more to him than that and Brolin gives an affable and very real performance. Interestingly, Mannix was a real-life person, who worked as a fixer for MGM. This is a heavily fictionalised version of his life and career.

Clooney is great as Whitlock, a bit of a lunkheaded star who starts to come round to his kidnappers' way of thinking. Ehrenreich is incredibly likeable as young Western star Hobie, struggling with his new role in a period drama and who becomes involved in the kidnapping plot. Johannson is wonderfully spiky as the pregnant ingenue, whilst Swinton gives brilliantly broad performances as the rival gossip columnists. I particularly liked Ralph Fiennes as the effete director of the period drama and Michael Gambon who adds an air of arch knowingness as an omniscient narrator. 

There are some real standout sequences - the aquatic ballet sequence where Johansson channels Esther Williams is particularly well done, as is a Gene Kelly style dance routine featuring Channing Tatum in a sailor outfit. One of the funniest sections comes when Mannix chairs a meeting with a rabbi, a Catholic priest, a Protestant priest and an Eastern Orthodox patrician over the representation of Christ in the Hail, Caesar! script. 

Hail, Caesar! is certainly more coherent than some other Coen Brothers movies, and whilst it is a lot of fun, it ultimately feels quite insubstantial.

Rating: 4 out of 5


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