Review: Hail, Caesar!

is charmed by aspects of Hail Caesar, but proposes it may have worked better as a series of short films rather than a full length feature

Image: Universal Studios

Image: Universal Studios


Lights, camera, action… Start rolling the weird! Brimming with Coen-esque dry humour, it unravels like a modern fable; a quirky, fictionalised documentary-like homage to cinema’s golden age. It strips away all romanticised notions of Hollywood glamour in favour of a cutting yet nostalgic satirisation of the sly controversy and mad house antics of the movie industry. It’s been three years since the Coen Brother’s last directorial venture that produced the ever cool, murky, folksy swagger of Inside Llewyn Davis. However, the characteristically gutsy punch of the Coen’s movie’s somehow feels absent from Hail Caesar…

Set in 1950’s Hollywood, a corrupt world of money hungry Producers, kidnappers and gossip columnists, this isn’t a safe place for movie stars. Particularly global heart-throb ‘Baird Whitlock’ (unsurprisingly, George Clooney) who is abducted from his movie set by ‘The Future’, a collection of screenwriters with Communist leanings. Left with a ransom note of $100, 000, ‘fixer’ and head of Capitol Pictures, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) conjures up means of rescue whilst simultaneously trying to shield his other clients from landing themselves in scandal.

A star studded cast propels the film’s offbeat narrative, all embodying every possible zany eccentric within the Hollywood circus ring. One scene stealer includes Alden Ehrenreich, who proves to be a master of deadpan comedy! He’s a cowboy who’s handy with a spaghetti lasso but unfortunately is ungifted in acting; much to the dismay of soft spoken director of serious dramas ‘Laurence Laurentz’, played to perfection by Ralph Fiennes. The dry humour that ensues between them, all revolving around the correct way to say “Would that it were so simple” mirrors the likes of a hilarious conversation between Fawlty Tower’s Basil and Manuel! Tilda Swinton’s dual portrayal of twin scoop-seeking gossip columnists, Thora and Thessaly Thacker, also managed to steal the show despite having very little screen time.

Other brilliant performances include Scarlet Johansson’s portrayal of sharp-tongued diva ‘DeeAnna Moran’ and also Channing Tatum, playing the fabulously camp ‘Burt Gurney’, a Gene Kelly style leading man. Short but sweet, cameos from Frances McDormand and Jonah Hill are also fantastically played out; most notably when McDormand’s character, a scatter brained film editor, is nearly strangled when her tie gets wound up in the projector… Easily done, it’s happened to everyone, right?

Interweaving within this satirisation of the Red Scare are dreamy synchronised swimming sequences and bedazzling choreographed musical numbers, captured beautifully by cinematographer Roger Deakins (who has previously worked on Coen Brothers classics such as Fargo, The Big Lebowski and No Country For Old Men amongst many others). Special mention should also be given to another Coen Brother’s regular, Mary Zophres – I hope next year’s Oscars remembers her work in this film, who in my opinion should be given the award for Tilda Swinton’s head wear alone!

The film overall has a nutty fly on the wall feel – almost like watching a nature programme in which film starlets replace animals – the jungle being swapped for soundstages and dressing rooms. It would almost work better as a series of short films rather than a full length feature. The action unfolds like a throng of legendary anecdotes born from circulating Hollywood rumours that have then been exaggerated with the Coen Brother’s signature absurdist edge. However, this edge dwindles into obscurity as the film goes on, as it feels like there’s a lack of focus to the story. The flaky, sporadic structure fails to piece together smoothly, consequently undermining the relevance of some of the characters.

Unfortunately, Hail Caesar feels like a colourful, intricately patterned patchwork quilt with straying seams. The Coen Brother’s latest work is wacky, goofy and sometimes fun, but it’s slow and clumsy pacing ultimately lets it down. However, the audience will undoubtedly come away from the film with a newfound appreciation of the art of dancing with a balanced banana on your head… It’s all in the hips, lips, eyes and thighs!

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