Hail Caesar! (12A)
DIRECTED BY: Joel and Ethan Coen
STARRING: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
The Coen brothers’ lovingly goofy latest.It’s 1951, and the motion picture industry is responding to the threat of television with colourful choreography, escapist romances and biblical epics. We open with a choir, a crucifix and a rosary, leading us to Josh Brolin’s Eddie Mannix in the confessional. It’s been 24 hours since his last confession, and he’s racked with the guilt of lying to his wife about smoking. But there’s no rest for the wicked, and 3am finds studio fixer Eddie saving a starlet from a “possible French postcard situation” before checking into Capitol Pictures where Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ (“Divine presence to be shot…”) is in full swing.
“It’s a swell story,” Mannix tells his pan-devotional focus group – a tale of swords, sandals and salvation, all done in the best possible taste. But things hit a snag when George Clooney’s Baird Whitlock is kidnapped and held to ransom by “the Future”. Meanwhile, Ralph Fiennes’s testy European director Laurence Laurentz needs a leading man for his sophisticated drama, Merrily We Dance, but balks when given Alden Ehrenreich’s “game and gamey” Hobie Doyle: “‘a dust actor; the man barely knows how to talk”.
It’s utterly chaotic and ridiculously indulgent, and it would amount to intolerable cruelty were Hail, Caesar! not so consistently, uproariously, affectionately funny.
Tilda Swinton plays feuding twin columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker, and George Clooney revives his dopiest O Brother, Where Art Thou? facial expressions to fine effect. But the show is stolen by a heavily trailed set piece between Hobie and Mr Laurentz (“Would that it were so simple”), which splendidly reworks the elocution riffs of Jean Hagen and Kathleen Freeman’s “I can’t stand him” routine from Singin’ in the Rain; the fact that the joke is still funny second time round is a testament to its roadworthiness.
At the centre of it all is Brolin’s Eddie, tempted by a world-beating job offer from Lockheed but still doggedly devoted to the madness of the movie business, in which he believes passionately. It’s this almost religious devotion that redeems Hail, Caesar! from the realms of mere whimsy. For all its knockabout silliness, the film is a love letter to the movies – or rather, to a dream of the movies. “The audience will assume your mirthlessness,” Laurentz tells Hobie when a desired laugh proves beyond the actor’s range. Yet there’s nothing mirthless about the Coens’ joy, which echoes around the corridors, soundstages and “Wallace Beery Conference Rooms” of Capitol Pictures as they lovingly, ludicrously lift the lid on a bygone screen age
SUNDAY 30 OCTOBER 2016
Doors: 2.30pm Film 3pm
All tickets £4
Rotten Tomatoes - 85%
The Guardian - ★★★★
The Telegraph - ★★★★
Empire Magazine - ★★★★
The Times - ★★★★