Though far from top-tier Coen Brothers fare – and in fact arguably in the bottom quartile of their output – Hail, Caesar nevertheless manages to mine a solid amount of charm from its quaint period setting and insanely strong cast.
In 1951, Hollywood studio head and “fixer” Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is faced with the most chaotic day of his life after the star of his studio’s latest big project, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), is kidnapped by a shadowy organisation, which threatens to ruin the picture.
If surely their least-assured effort since 2004’s The Ladykillers, Hail, Caesar smartly snaps along at a breakneck pace, fleeting from one wacky scenario – involving the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum and stellar newcomer Alden Ehrenreich – to the next.
It’s a film at once in doe-eyed love with the Golden Age of Cinema and keenly mocking it, illustrating the post-war era’s embarrassing hallmarks through some of its most cringe-worthily over the top output. Channing Tatum’s campy dance number as a sailor and, indeed, the titular swords-and-sandals epic starring Clooney’s character are lovingly displayed, albeit with a contemporary wink.
Still, considering that the vast majority of cast members have their performances spread thinly across the pic – and Jonah Hill appears for maybe three minutes in total – it falls to Brolin and Ehrenreich to carry the film for the most part, which they do splendidly. Even Clooney, who figured majorly in the movie’s marketing, gives a fairly broad non-event of a performance; he comes and goes, is moderately entertaining but curiously takes a back-seat compared to the usual stature his roles command.
Like many of the Coens’ best films, it all adds up to an anti-climax of an ending that might have audiences less familiar with the directors asking, “What was the point of it all?” To that end it’ll do much more for fans of Hollywood’s vintage period and the screwball comedy in particular, but seeing such a strong cast goofing off with such a strange project is plenty rewarding itself, even if it feels fairly low-effort compared to the Coens’ recent triumphs.
Hail, Caesar! is in cinemas now