FROM JULY 11 / CERT. 12 VENI, VIDI, CLOONEY
T’S ALL GEORGE Clooney’s fault. As he regales us proudly in one of four Coen-light featurettes, he kept blabbing at press conferences that Hail, Caesar! was to be the brothers’ next film, only to mess with their heads. So they eventually just wrote the damn thing, and the A-listers couldn’t stay away. “Unless you are a complete moron, you say yes,” says Channing Tatum of the offer to join the Coen circus, unperturbed that he was cast as a complete moron: Gene Kelly-like hoofer Burt Gurney.
An offbeat love song to the Golden Age of movies, located in a bustling 1950s Hollywood studio, it comes complete with a quota of magnificent pastiches on long-scuttled genres such as aquamusicals and Biblical epics wherein Clooney meets Christ. It’s leisurely for a farce, and non-committal about suspense: the genre is anyone’s guess.
Structurally speaking, it’s a smorgasbord of subplots, a couple of days’ worth of trouble-shooting for Josh Brolin’s likable Eddie Mannix, skulking about the backlot like a shamus. He’s head honcho at Capitol Pictures, where Barton Fink once wrestled with a wrestling picture. If you’re into motifs, Mannix plays Jesus to these fallen movie stars, checking in like clockwork with Capitol’s unseen Godhead, Mr. Skank.
This is not the Coens at their edgiest, or most pungently weird. There is none of that thrilling collision between good and evil, and all denominations of idiot between. You half wonder whether the unflustered style is a riposte to the feisty violence of Fargo, the TV show made in their honour. Instead, Hail, Caesar! is elegantly laidback, heartfelt in its survey of Hollywood then and now. Tatum’s tap routine, an homage to old-school homoeroticism, is so perfectly done it feels uncanny. The arrival of a Soviet sub off the coast of Malibu, featuring a surprising appearance by Dolph Lundgren, looks like it was shot on a soundstage (which it was). Even the real world feels like a movie (which it is). The message is that seeking a message is futile. Politics and faith prove fakers in the face of honest-to-god moviemaking. The Commies who kidnap Clooney’s matinée nitwit turn out to be a cabal of Finkish screenwriters, hankering after a fair share of the dough. Hail, Caesar! may resemble a fluffy farce, but what with the squabbling fussbudgets, bad hair, bungled kidnappings and Frances Mcdormand cameo, there’s little doubt this is a genuine Coen joint.
Above: “Nitwit”: George Clooney as Hollywood star Baird Whitlock. Below: Hello, sailor! Channing Tatum’s stripping days proved useful.