Hail, Caesar! is the Coen brothers’ latest cinematic outing, and it’s a gloriously indulgent blend of silliness, happiness, hilarity and above all else, a love for cinema. Josh Brolin, George Clooney and Alden Ehrenreich star, forming part of a much wider all-star cast including Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum and Ralph Fiennes, some appearing only fleetingly (Jonah Hill and Frances McDormand probably have about two minutes of collective screen time). This does nothing to ruin the fun of Hail, Caesar! though, and just adds to the surreal atmosphere that the audience is already bathing in. Hail, Caesar! is by no means the best Coen brothers’ film, but it’s just so much fun that you won’t care.
From the trailers alone, one might assume that the plot of the film is that of Baird Whitlock’s (George Clooney) kidnapping, and this isn’t incorrect, but it isn’t really correct either. Hail, Caesar! doesn’t have a plot as such, and it’s all the better for it. I know what you’re thinking – a film without a coherent story arc? That doesn’t sound good or interesting. But this is a Coen brothers’ film! By all means there are plots – a string of plots in fact, all revolving around Brolin’s fix-it man of the studio-heavy days of 1950s Hollywood, but these are largely excuses for gags and quirky Coen-isms that audiences have come to admire. The strings that tie these together are merely roads for the audience to go down in order to enjoy the next set piece or comedic exchange – and very often these are combined; Channing Tatum’s singing and dancing routine, for example, is both funny and actually quite good, and its creativity actually helps to make it funnier.
Tilda Swinton’s roles as both Thacker sisters deserves a special mention…
What really ties the film together though (much like the rug tying the room together) are the performances. The casting of Ralph Fiennes as the quirky, European-inflected British director was genius, likewise George Clooney’s role as the aging film star with a lot between the ears. Josh Brolin is a great straight man to all the madness unfolding around him, both choreographed and impromptu, and Tilda Swinton’s roles as both Thacker sisters deserves a special mention. The way she speaks and holds herself is hilarious, and her costume design and dialogue is fantastic; you can’t help but grin like an idiot whenever she’s on screen.
The real standout star however is Alden Ehrenreich, who plays Hobie Doyle – a singing cowboy type with expert lasso and riding skills but little else, Hobie’s simultaneously intentionally and unintentionally hilarious, and Ehrenreich does an amazing job at making someone acting awfully look as though they’re really trying to not act awfully– an unbelievably difficult feat to pull off convincingly. It’s done perfectly, and the result is hilarious. Likewise, his interactions with fellow cast members go a long way to adding to the humour, the scenes he shares with Ralph Fiennes and Veronica Osorio in particular. There’s just a certain joy to watching him twirl around and skip and hop through a rope in a western-style suit next to a 1950s American car.
There’s a certain joy and happiness that sticks out throughout the whole film in fact, and it maintains this pleasant and contented atmosphere even in its more dramatic moments (though to be fair, there are very few of these, and they’re generally played for laughs anyway). But this joy is reflected in the simple fun of watching dance numbers, old westerns, and Scarlett Johansson as a synchronised-swimming mermaid with a big mechanical whale thrown into the mix. If one were to describe Hail, Caesar! in a word, it would have to be fun. Unashamedly silly and stupid, it’s a genuinely refreshing cinematic experience, and one that just wouldn’t work if it wasn’t the Coens helming it.
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It’s also full of tiny, more subtle Coen-isms and gags that prolong your enjoyment of certain scenes well after they’ve ended – gags that just aren’t worth ruining here, but note things like the naming of the dog, and some of the visual jokes of the set design for the Whitlock film, amongst other things.
Earlier, I referred to grinning like an idiot whilst watching Hail, Caesar!. Indeed, “grinning like an idiot” actually goes a long way to describing the experience of the film. It’s not the Coens’ best film by a long stretch, and it’s indulgent and stupid. But it’s amazing at being indulgent and stupid. It’s silly. It’s sing-y. It’s dancy-y. It’s even a little bit pointless. But it’s also somehow a breath of fresh air – a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and one that just wants to entertain the audience, and frankly, we’ve all got a lot of time for that if it’s a Coen brothers film.
By Oliver Rowe