Film review: HAIL, CAESAR!, from ‘Built For Speed’

The Cohen brother’s latest film Hail, Caesar!, a satire of Hollywood’s golden age of the early 1950’s, is an engaging movie rather than the witty, insightful and confronting film we expect from the Cohens.

Set at the feverish production lot of fictitious Capitol Pictures, the film sees hard-nosed executive Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) constantly trying to extinguish fires created by his ridiculous temperamental stars. When the studio’s biggest asset Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped in the midst of filming a massively expensive religious epic entitled Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ, Mannix scrambles to prevent the story from leaking to Hedder Hopper-like twin gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton).

The film features typical Cohen Brothers themes such as the sinister power of big corporations; familiar Cohen plot devices such as sweaty, mid-level bureaucrats finding themselves in impossible binds and archetypal Cohen Brothers scenes of characters pontificating about philosophy and politics. The problem is that the Cohens don’t deliver these themes and tropes in as riveting a fashion as in their best films such as No Country for Old Men or Fargo.

Also, as a farce, Hail, Caesar! isn’t particularly funny with the dialogue more quirky than witty. The satirical references to fears about a communist infiltration in 1950’s Hollywood aren’t particularly hilarious or insightful. There are, however, a few amusing moments particularly when pompous temperamental director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), who does drawing room comedies, has to cope with the studio’s cowboy movie star being plonked into his latest film.

Another problem with this film is that, despite the stellar cast, the characters aren’t especially engaging, Clooney is ok as a comical buffoon but Brolin isn’t particularly interesting or sympathetic as the central figure Mannix. Also, scarlet Johansson is given little to do in a sub-plot in which she plays trashy actress with an illegitimate child. Channing Tatum pops up as he tends to do in most films these days and does a reasonable job playing a Gene Kelly-like figure with an unusual secret.

Hail, Caesar! Is, however, attractively shot and features some impressively elaborate and well-staged pastiches of golden-era Hollywood movie staples including westerns, On the Town-style dancing sailor movies and Esther Williams-like water ballets.

Hail, Caesar! is really just a lark with the Cohen’s having some fun with their industry. It’s enjoyable enough but not destined to become one of their more memorable films.

Nick’s rating: ***.

Genre: Comedy/ drama/ nostalgia.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Joel and Ethan Cohen.

Release date: 26th February 2016.

Running time: 106 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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