Sunday 3 April 2016

Hail, Caesar! by Ethan & Joel Coen

I've long had my doubts about the Coen Brothers — ever since their first film Blood Simple, in fact, I seemed to be immune to their charms. People loved their stuff, but it didn't float my boat. I especially disliked Raising Arizona and Barton Fink. However, no one could deny that True Grit was a tremendous movie.

And now we have the delightful Hail, Caesar! This is a flawless satire of Hollywood in the 1950s, which has a lot of interesting overlap with the excellent Trumbo, including a major plot concerning communist screenwriters. It even features a Hedda Hopper style gossip columnist, again wonderfully played by a British actress, this time the sublime Tilda Swinton.

Swinton is just part of a fabulous cast, all doing splendid work — Scarlett Johansson as an aquatic siren, Ralph Fiennes confirming the gift for comedy he displayed in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Josh Brolin as the studio fixer. 

But particular credit must go to those who are willing to undermine their usual image  — Tatum Channing of Magic Mike fame, doing great work in a camp sailor-suit dance sequence and most of all George Clooney sending himself up as a commie-stooge catamite.

Above all, however, kudos must go to Alden Ehrenreich who seems to have learned how to do tricks with a lasso and acrobatics on horseback for his role here as an amiable singing cowboy star forced into a tuxedo in a spectacular bit of miscasting by Brolin's studio boss.

Beautifully written by the Coen brothers, Hail, Caesar! is a terrific comedy with great parodies of vintage Hollywood output, especially the titular biblical epic, which is nailed with uncanny and hilarious precision. (There is also a priceless scene with religious leaders invited into the studio to argue about the script — and the nature of the deity.)
I only noticed one slip up in evoking the era: Lockheed Aircraft Corporation is trying to poach Brolin and we get a shot of a letter from their "Human Resources" department. In fact "human resources" is a trendy modern term for what would have been called the Personnel Department back in the 1950s. Let's get these period details correct, folks.

Pedantry aside, this movie is faultless, charming and huge fun. Who knows, maybe I should even take another look at Barton Fink.

(Image credits: all the posters are from Imp Awards, where shamefully there was none featuring Ehrenreich, who has a far greater and more important role than, for instance, Jonah Hill, who gets a great big poster all his own.)

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