Cracking up at Coen brothers
Following a period of more serious, dramatic fare, it’s back to the comfy surroundings of screwball comedy for the Coen brothers.
Only once since the misfire of 2004’s Ladykillers remake have the duo returned to the genre – for the fun-but-flawed Burn After Reading six years ago.
And it’s no coincidence their comedy renaissance marks their fifth collaboration with George Clooney, whose previous turns for the directing siblings have all at least tickled the funnybone.
Set in the 1950s, Hail, Caesar! sees Clooney play movie star Baird Whitlock, who disappears while filming prestige picture Tale Of Christ’s Life for studio Capitol Pictures, with fixer Eddie Mannix ( Josh Brolin) tasked with finding him.
The Coens once again wrote the script on top of directing, and they’ve tapped into some of their back catalogue for a real greatest hits parade.
They’ve already targeted the Hollywood studio system in Barton Fink, roughed up Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the grandiose, MGM-style musical numbers are more than a little reminiscent of the dream sequence in The Big Lebowski.
But it’s a testament to the brothers’ skills behind the camera and with the written word – and the A-list actors they have on speed dial – that Hail, Caesar! is still a riotously entertaining ride in its own right.
The film-within-a-film structure gives the Coens carte blanche to let rip with some stunning song and dance routines and the movie has such an enchanting glow it nearly leaves viewers needing sunglasses to sit through it.
Clooney has been front and centre for the marketing of Hail, Caesar! and little wonder – he is one of the most recognisable faces on the planet – but it’s Brolin who is the real star of the show.
After being outshone by Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, Brolin doesn’t allow for any sloppy seconds this time around as he registers as one of the Coens’ most wellrounded leading men yet.
Clooney apes his true-life persona and clearly enjoys doing so, Scarlett Johansson doesn’t let even a mechanical whale steal her spotlight and Channing Tatum makes for a mean tap dancer.
Everywhere you turn there’s star wattage – Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Jonah Hill, regular Coens go-to-girl Frances McDormand – and the often hilarious gags and in-jokes distract from the fact the plot is sparse.
Not even these qualities can mask the rather underwhelming climax, though. It’s almost as if the Coens have thrown everything into the cornucopia of character set-up and golden era Hollywood homages, but ran out of energy to finish things off on a high.
Hail, Caesar! may not be quite vintage Coens but you’ll still have a whale of a time watching it.