Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 2016
Directed by
Joel Coen / Ethan Coen
105 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Hail, Caesar!

Synopsis: Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) works at Capitol Pictures making sure that their stable of stars keep a squeaky clean public image. It isn’t easy: one of their biggest stars, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), is a notorious philanderer who has been abducted and their Number One female star, DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson),is pregnant out of wedlock. Maybe he should get a real job.

The Coens’ latest offering is a tad disappointing. Disappointing because it is not one of their better films, but even so, being chock-full with the talented sibling’s trademark wit and their characteristic high-end production values it is still delightfully entertaining.

Fans of the Golden Years of Hollywood won’t be disappointed as the Coens lovingly conjure up magical simulacra from Tinsel Town’s glory years (although set in the 1950s the filmic quotations dip into the ‘40s and ‘30s). Book-ending the film with a lavish Biblical epic in which George Clooney plays a Roman General with the Pythonesque name of Italicus, the brothers manage to interpellate into their story a Busby Berkeley aquatic routine (albeit a little sloppily so), a Gene Kelly-style dance number (with Tatum Channing as a singing, dancing and very gay in the modern sense sailor, Tom Mix style Western quickies and lashings of film noir stylistics.

However, whilst these delicious elements, and there are many more, are small marvels in themselves, they do not cohere into a particularly compelling story. Scarlett Johansson’s tough-broad starlet, Tilda Swinton’s twin sister gossip columnists, Frances McDormand’s chain-smoking film editor and so on, all remain discrete characters who do not come together in any meaningful way.  Even the main character, Josh Brolin’s studio fixer, spends most of the film in a bubble of his own worries and there is little at stake in his character’s trajectory other than his Catholic guilt over lying to his wife about having given up smoking and whether to take a straight job at Lockheed. And as much as each scene contains something delightful, most remain on the cusp of something but never quite arrive there (a notable exception is a wonderfully farcical exchange between Ralph Fiennes, as a very British director, and a scene-stealing Alden Ehrenreich as a hillbilly cowboy trying to perfect a lilting line of dialogue: “Would that it were so simple”).

There is an overarching tongue-in-cheek Marxist account of Hollywood’s ideological function as a manufacturer of consent, refuted in classic form in a wonderful scene in which Eddie literally slaps sense into Baird who has fallen for his Communist captor’s rhetoric, but Hail, Caesar! Is not a considered insight into Hollywood’s much-covered HUAC experiences (dealt with in the currently screening Trumbo) but is art-for-art's sake exercise in retro style. As such, it is jolly good fun.




Want more about this film?

search youtube  search wikipedia  

Want something different?

random vintage best worst