Published On: Fri, Mar 4th, 2016

Hail, Caesar! film review: O brother, what are those crazy Coen brothers up to now?

The film is fast-paced and mostly enchanting, says Charlotte O'Sullivan, and has so much talent on display

The Hail,   Caesar!

The Coen brothers are a meticulous pair, so it’s surely no coincidence that Michael Gambon narrates their latest yarn, which is set in Fifties LA and begins with a man in a trench coat and fedora on a night-time mission. Gambon’s presence confirms that what we are about to receive is indebted to Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective. Crooning and corruption. Hermeneutics and hoofing. The brothers make a song and dance about pop culture in between exploring the guilt aroused by giddy spectaculars. How shameful to report that the whole thing is fabulous.

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a beleaguered Hollywood exec. Among Eddie’s many problems is a tyrannical boss whose every profit-seeking idea must be hailed. He also has to deal with a roster of wayward stars, including matinee idol Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), ace swimmer DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), singing cowboy Hobie (Alden Ehrenreich, a revelation) and toe-tapper Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum). All but one of the major characters become embroiled in a kidnap plot, cooked up by a gang of chain-smoking communist screenwriters, which jeopardises the production of an epic concerning a handsome Roman tribune. Jesus Christ! (Yes, he’s involved too.)

 

Joel-Ethan-Coen-Hail-Caesar

 

The film is fast-paced and mostly enchanting. Eddie’s a bit of a bore, to be honest, and some of the interactions between the commies are one-note. But there’s barely time to notice. Clooney, Tatum and Ehrenreich are chuckle factories, while Ralph Fiennes is howl-out-loud funny as Laurence Laurentz, a debonair, Laurence Olivier-like director tasked with turning Hobie into a sardonic gent. Look out for Laurentz’s beatifically fake smile as it dawns on him that the task is doomed.

There’s so much talent on display. Choreographer Christopher Gattelli ensures that surreal splashings in a pool and Tatum’s mischievous limbs are purely and impurely delightful. The colourful sets, meanwhile, blaze with dream-like crispness and Carter Burwell (who’s created so many folk ditties for the Coens) pushes the envelope with a cracking show tune as well as a typically soulful, bluegrass dirge. Even the melodiously husky voice of a minor character (Eddie’s assistant, Natalie) shoots forth bolts of joy.

I once had the (half) pleasure of interviewing the Coens. Ethan was adorable. Joel decided, within seconds, that I was a twit. As it happens, my two favourite Coen brothers’ films (Raising Arizona and O Brother, Where Art Thou?) dwell on excitable fools. Baird and Hobie belong in such company.

Who knows if the British public will embrace them. Whenever the Coens go for genre mash-ups — or use the dreaded word “screenwriter” — they’re punished at the box office. Seeing as how Hail, Caesar! is hard to categorise, features a number of hacks and uses its A-list stars sparingly, it could tank. Eddie’s boss, the wonderfully named Mr Skank, wouldn’t green-light this project. Still, it’s spectacular.

This article was first published at the Standard, by CHARLOTTE O’SULLIVAN

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