Review: Funny and fascinating homage to Hollywood’s golden age

George Clooney in Hail, Caesar!
George Clooney in Hail, Caesar!

Matt Adcock reviews new Coen brothers comedy Hail, Caesar!

Gird your cinematic loins. Prepare for a mind-bending day in the life of ‘50s Hollywood studio exec fighting to maintain a semblance of order in the midst of a madcap volley of problems, the sort that only the genius minds of the Coen brothers could unleash.

Hail, Caesar could be described as a part sequel to the Coen’s Barton Fink (same fictional studio at the heart of the action), or even a sibling screwball comedy to their classic kidnap caper The Big Lebowski. More than anything though, this glorious tribute to the heyday of elaborate musical flicks is stuffed to the brim with pure Coen references and quirks. For some that will mean scratched heads and a sense of ‘what have I just seen?’ – for others, Hail, Caesar will delight with a life-affirming crackle of manic energy backed up with a deep spiritual charge.

We join Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who works for Capitol Pictures. He’s having a trying day as his leading man Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) has suddenly disappeared. Meanwhile B-movie rodeo cowboy star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) gets seriously out of his depth when asked to make the jump into high class drama for picky director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes).

Add into the mix scandal courting pin-up leading lady DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) as a grumpy synchronized swimming mermaid with man problems. And there’s cheeky tap dancing comedy star Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) who might just be caught up in a sinister communist movement known only as ‘The Future’.

All bets are off when scandal-seeking journalist sisters Thora Thacker and Thessaly Thacker (both played by Tilda Swinton) start to pry into the studio’s dirty laundry. Can Mannix survive in the face of such pressure?

The Coens are basically having a high old time with this homage-em-up which doesn’t conform to any standard plotting. There is plenty of fun on offer but it’s mixed up with savvy political comment and a vein of spirituality, the likes of which is rarely found so blatantly presented on the big screen. The climactic speech by Clooney as a Roman Centurion facing the dying Jesus on the cross even makes this into a fascinating ‘Passion Play’ of sorts and makes it perfect Easter watching.

Fans of the Coen brothers should make seeing Hail, Caesar top of their ‘to do’ lists – whilst those looking for more standard cinema comedy should see this with an especially open mind.