Hail, Cae­sar!



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.

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