Following up from their last film in 2013, Inside Llewyn Davis, Ethan and Joel Coen return with the much lighter Hail, Casear! With an assortment of A-grade actors in front of the camera and the brothers’ talents behind, this outing is easily one of their funniest and most up-beat, though probably not their most coherent story-wise.
Set in a post-war Los Angeles, the film follows a day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), the ‘Head of Physical Production’. Even with his time split between the making of four movies, he finds that his job more actively consists of pandering and reeling in the stars that fill each production. There’s Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) in a Roman epic, an aquatic spectacular with Deanna Morris (Scarlett Johansson), the singing-cowboy turned romantic-lead Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), as well as the all-male musical starring Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum), and all while fending off a nosey pair of twin columnists (both played by Tilda Swinton) who are hellbent on getting the latest scoop at any cost.
The true standouts are Clooney (Gravity) and Fiennes (Spectre), who both remind just how wonderful they can be in comedic roles. Clooney steals most of his scenes as his goofy Hollywood star, and Fiennes gets to put to use his great comedic timing. Swinton (The Grand Budapest Hotel) is a marvel as the feisty twins, although gets left to play with only twin-related gags and, unfortunately, doesn’t get to do much more, which is similar to Johansson (Her), whose story as the aquatic starlet seems to fizzle out without much notice. Brolin (Sicario) acts as the true foundation though, and while these quirky characters revolve around him, his firm and grounded nature serves to bring some sense of sanity to the madness.
The real downfall of the film is a double edge sword, because it also produces some of the film’s best moments. While indulging in many show-stopping numbers that drive home both parody and celebration of the Golden Hollywood era, it comes at the cost of truly stopping the film’s momentum. While it’s more than likely this lack of plot, or perhaps negligence of it, is done on purpose, it’s a shame that these wonderful scenes could not have been somehow sewn better into the fabric of the narrative. Yet these moments are never truly wasted, and overtly done in the name of Hollywood’s variety, which is enough to distract with laughs for the full running length.
While perhaps not the Coen brother’s best film to date, Hail, Caesar! is a fun ride, especially for those who consider themselves true cinephiles.