Synchronized swimming, sashaying sailors, a singing cowboy, communism unpicked, Scarlett Johannson and George Clooney – stir with a heavy pinch of irony and an arched eyebrow. As ever, it’s a heady mix in the Coen brothers’ latest comedy Hail, Caesar!.
Personally, I was totally besotted by the singing cowboy and his lasso skills – not a euphemism, but Hobie Doyle’s slick trick for the ladies, with rope and spaghetti.
Alden Ehrenreich plays the aforementioned Western hero Doyle, who’s running out of rodeo road, with a refreshing sincerity that’s lacking elsewhere in the convoluted plot. It’s all about old-style Hollywood in the 1950s and the potential demise of the all-singing, all-dancing blockbusters, that were thought to be fatally wounded by the new-fangled telly-box in the corner of the living-room.
Fortunately they were only temporarily stunned – a bit like Clooney’s character, kidnapped by the Commies, in a dastardly abduction from the studio, to blackmail Capitol, just as they are shooting the climax of their sword and sandals religious epic about ‘the Christ.’ They have even arranged for local religious leaders to peruse the plot, to avoid offence, but now their star is missing, presumed awol on a bender.
Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is the studio fixer, who needs to solve the mystery. He presides over a vast kingdom of sound stages, all producing the movie magic for the masses, just as Hollywood’s Golden Age is becoming a little tarnished. Mannix also manages the talent, arranging relationships to fill the showbiz gossip columns and some lavender liaisons, so old school, but his major preoccupation is giving up smoking. That’s his wife’s idea, but seems unlikely, given the tobacco addictions of the time.
The four-time Oscar-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men, True Grit, Fargo) wrote, directed, edited and co-produced Hail, Caesar!.
Perhaps another outside eye would have helped. As well as Brolin, Clooney and Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum also star.
There are interesting debates on communism and capitalism, with one-time Marxism guru Herbert Marcuse depicted in the bitter band of writers who reckon the studios owe them big time. Grouped together as The Future, there’s a whole post-movie discussion on that alone. One for movie obsessives, if you don’t find it too self-indulgent. There’s only so much archness anyone can digest at one gulp.
by Liz Kennedy
Hail, Caesar! (12A) 106 mins