Hail, Caesar! takes you back to the golden era of Hollywood and much like that time, revels in the ridiculous. The Cohen’s latest film has been sold as a screwball comedy, but in reality, it is an almost historical pastiche of an era where everything had to bigger and louder than what had come before. When the movie industry tackled Jesus and tap-dancing sailors rather than superheroes and Liam Neeson punching foreign people.
The plot, or at least the small amount that there is, follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) a Hollywood fixer who works for Capital Pictures (the same company that Barton Fink worked with). His daily duties include everything from dealing with the press to sorting out what to do with DeeAnna Moran’s (Scarlett Johansson) pregnancy, which has taken place outside of wedlock. His stressful job is made even worse when daft actor Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped from the set of his latest film, Hail, Caesar!, by the Commies.
However, the truth is that the plot is about as important to this film as the happiness of the lowliest of extras is to the Hollywood system. The Cohen’s latest effort is really a series of vignettes, bouncing from extravagant ballrooms to quite frankly stunning tap dancing scenes revolving around the increasingly brilliant Channing Tatum. You have Ralph Fiennes – seemingly continuing his role from The Grand Budapest Hotel – as an eccentric movie director and Tilda Swinton flouncing around as twin gossip columnists, a role most definitely inspired by Hedda Hopper. Mannix is what links all of these things together, but a lot of them are irrelevant at best when it comes to Whitlock’s kidnapping.
The real star, though, is Alden Ehrenreich, probably the member of the cast with the least name value, but the one who steals nearly every scene he is. As simple actor Hobie Doyle, a man who self-proclaims that the most complicated line in most of his movies is giddyup, Ehrenreich makes him delightfully lovable while at the same time retaining a ridiculous level of stupidity. His interactions with Fiennes, in particular, are works of genius, and I could quite happily sit down to watch a day in his life.
George Clooney meanwhile continues his perfecting of playing the idiot in the Cohen’s more lighthearted films. His kidnapping by communists seems to suggest that the communist plot was real after all, and it would make an interesting (if very strange) double bill with Trumbo. Few star actors can do gormless the way that Clooney does and even fewer are willing to do it with the regularity that he does.
Hail, Caesar may not be the knockabout comedy that the trailers have promised. Rather than a laugh a minute it’s closer to a laugh every ten, but in the periods between those laughs, you’d have to be rather cold-hearted not to have a smile plastered across your face. While I doubt it will go down as one of the Cohen’s bests, it is a loving look at a period in Hollywood where things genuinely were ridiculous.