GOLDEN Age Hollywood is the setting for Joel and Ethan Cohen’s gloriously goofy comedy noir Hail, Caesar!
Fresh from writing Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, the brothers have put their serious pens back in their pockets to pastiche the glamour of the noir genre – the strong men in sharp suits, a case to be solved – and parody the Hollywood film industry at the same time.
Set on the sprawling lot of imaginary film studio Capitol Pictures, we follow studio runner and supreme noir specimen Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who is attempting to discover the whereabouts of missing movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) before word gets out and wrecks the studio’s reputation as well as the prestige picture about Christ’s crucifixion that Whitlock is filming on the lot.
There are plenty of sublime and ridiculous surprises to be found along the way. Not least in the glimpses behind the Hollywood curtain we’re given as Mannix’s day job sees him rub shoulders with stars of the silver screen (both real and fictional).
Epic comic set-pieces from Scarlett Johansson, whose Monroe-esque on-screen beauty is suddenly shattered by her Boston brawler’s accent and attitude to match, and Channing Tatum, who dances and sings in a sailor outfit mimicking Frank Sinatra classic On The Town, are both moments of pure cinematic joy. There’s lots of familiarity to be found in fact, with the Cohen’s evoking the era that brought us The Greatest Story Ever Told and Ben Hur with a stunning and very deliberate reality.
One of the film’s best moments sees Ralph Fiennes, as elegant English director Laurence Lorentz, grow increasingly exasperated by acrobatic Western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) as he tries to teach his drawling new arrival how to say the line “would that it were so simple” in a refined fashion. Fiennes is magnificent, albeit in a cameo role really, while his earnest counterpart is up to the challenge and proves one of the highlights of the movie. He returns later twirling a lasso with unparalleled skill.
Clooney too is playing dumb, dressed throughout in a Roman centurion’s outfit with a face full of make-up and a head full of nothing. But it’s not all famous faces sending up their profession. Brolin’s character, who lies at the heart of the film, is an earnest, God-fearing man who, while intimidating in fedora and overcoat as he bribes cops, slaps dames and excels at his work as a kind-of mob enforcer for the studio, is also vulnerable as a father, a husband and a man simply trying to provide for his family by doing his job as best he can.
There are a few broad strokes, but the Cohen’s skill at drawing out honest performances through their writing and directing means that even when they’re setting up the gags you’re really laughing with the characters, not at them.
Final word: If the Cohen brothers were prospectors they would be giving the gold away, such is there ease at finding it. Once again this family writing/directing team has created a supremely entertaining film that mixes cerebral storytelling with moments of genuine hilarity and all-singing, all-dancing spectacle.
If you liked Hail, Caesar! you should also watch:
- Burn After Reading
- The Ladykillers