Trouble in Tinsel Town

George Clooney stars in Hail, Caesar!, the Coen brothers’ bawdy pastiche of the movie industry

Kim Taylor-Foster


Kim Taylor-Foster

Hail Caesar film

Hail Caesar! (12A)
Running time 1hr 46mins
Rating: ****

YOU couldn’t accuse the Coen brothers of lacking a strong personal voice. Whichever of the films made by this maverick directing entity you choose to watch, it’s all but guaranteed to be characterised by goofiness and irreverence – True Grit is a notable exception – although both aren’t always there in equal measure.

Hail, Caesar! has both in spades. A farce and a satire knitted together with a film noir thread, drawn by Josh Brolin’s stern and beleaguered studio ‘fixer’ Eddie Mannix, Joel and Ethan’s latest pulls together elements of their previous work in one brash – and, at times, bawdy – pertinent satirical pastiche of the movie industry.

Focused on the 1950s-era studio system and named after the biblical epic being made within the film featuring movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), its set-up allows it to layer on the genre references and parodies.

We see a B western being made, an overblown drawing-room melodrama directed by the highfalutin’ Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) as well as a lavish water-based musical starring America’s sweetheart-cum-brusque strumpet DeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) and a Gene Kelly-style song-and-dance number featuring Channing Tatum springing around a bar as a sailor bemoaning – or celebrating – the prospect of eight months at sea away from ‘dames’.

As is typical of many of the Coens’ films, the action centres around a kidnapping. When Clooney’s Baird Whitlock is snatched right off the set, it’s up to Mannix to uncover what’s happened and bring him back so filming can continue without a hitch. Hit with a ransom demand, he doesn’t hesitate.

At the same time, he’s trying to keep the rest of the studio’s stars in line, while fending off the attentions of sociopathic twin gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton). He’s also dealing with keeping DeAnna’s reputation intact and switching western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich in scene-stealing form) from wrangling horses to strangling vowels in Laurence Laurentz’s latest.

Coinciding with the releases of both Spotlight and The Big Short – currently in cinemas – it bolsters both and gives credence to the idea that we’re entering a more honest era of filmmaking. All three films strive to reveal the truth.

As Spotlight tells the factually correct story of child abuse within the Catholic Church, The Big Short is at equal pains to point out elements of the film that didn’t actually happen. So Hail, Caesar! strips away the glitzy façade of Hollywood to lay its artifice bare. There is no such thing as a ‘movie star’, we’re shown – every star is a persona created by the studios and the sum of the characters they play.

Compare Deadpool too – a self-referential comic book game changer. Each film seeks to inform and entertain a cinema-savvy internet generation. Also lightheartedly pitting communism against capitalism, the Coens don’t pull any punches when it comes to tackling heavyweight topics – doing so with humour is particularly powerful.

With plenty of cameos to keep you star-spotting for the duration, Hail, Caesar! is an ambitious, enjoyable and clever film that will no doubt reveal more of its riches on multiple viewings.

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