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Review - Hail Caesar

By midlandsmovies, May 9 2016 05:04PM

Hail, Caesar! (2016) Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen


Narrated by a sardonic Michael Gambon, the latest from directing partnership Joel and Ethan Coen is a comedic look at the 1950s Hollywood studio system which includes light-hearted allusions to McCarthyism but plays out as a farcical pantomime of kidnapping mishaps akin to The Big Lebowski.


The plot sees Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix, Head of Production at Capitol Productions, trying to keep scandals of its wayward stars away from the press. Enquiries from socialite journalists the Thacker sisters (both played by Tilda Swinton who is as great as she always is) about their dark secrets – including a ‘knocked-up’ Scarlett Johansson as DeeAnna Moran – are delayed as he deals with a recent kidnapping. A Kirk Douglas-esque George Clooney is drugged unconscious and subsequently held for ransom after being taken from the set of a prestige Roman Epic. This story of a communist “study group” of mostly underpaid (possibly black-listed) screenwriters is punctuated with parallel stories including the career of up-and-coming singing Western star Hobie Doyle who is hired for an artistic project despite his stunt background.


As livelihoods intersect, the stories come together as characters bumble their way through multiple takes on set and arrive at tender dinner dates under the eyes of the media and the film revels in these nods to the past throughout. From the (slightly) hidden homo-eroticism of the amazing tap-dancing musical number "No Dames!" sequence led by Channing Tatum to the iconography of historical epics from the period such as Cleopatra, Quo Vadis and Ben-Hur, the Coens move from musicals other genres with ease. Their love for the period is obvious as they allude to a host of real-life Hollywood legends – Kirby Grant, Esther Williams, Gene Kelly, Carmen Miranda and so forth – which although obvious, are perfect as over-the-top stereotypes reflecting the OTT film performances from this Golden Age.


Funnily, some scenes were reminiscent of the recent, and much more serious, Trumbo and the Coens’ sense of time was equally amazing – none more so that the work done by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins. The colour grading on the Hobie Doyle’s film scene was phenomenal and enhanced by the brilliantly designed period wardrobe. Technicolour luminescence, precisely chosen LA film locations and rear projection helped sell not just the ‘films within the film’ but the film you’re watching itself. A great “meta” idea helped by tiny touches like Maddix’s Walt Disney-style moustache, a mermaid’s tail from a 50’s synchronised swimming team and suitably realistic backlot locations were a heartfelt tribute to the era.


The acting was also brilliant with a host of current Hollywood stars but cameos by Coen regular (and wife) Frances McDormand and a brief turn by Jonah Hill help flesh out an already stellar cast. Channing Tatum as Burt Gurney doing the 50s technical dance number was a joy as were the silly De Ville-esque religious monologues that Clooney spouts. The comedy peaks however with Ralph Fiennes’ as Laurence Laurentz who tries to coax a performance from Doyle’s hopeless efforts.


A homage, a pastiche, a tribute – the Coens’ ‘Hail, Caesar!’ is a masterclass in the technical but with warm comedic touches, a playfully simple narrative and heaps of laugh out loud moments, it also passes the audition to join those great films about films. With the look of an LA Confidential and a raucousness verging on a Carry On film, the Coens’ latest offering has all the ingredients of the bygone age it affectionately lampoons.


8.5/10

Midlands Movies Mike


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