Hail, Caesar! (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2016)
The Coen brothers are held in high esteem by many. But not this chick. For those unfamiliar with the pair, their joint directorial/screenwriting work includes Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Intolerable Cruelty (it really was), No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, True Grit, and Inside Llewyn Davis among others. Though I haven’t seen those first big three, I have never overly enjoyed a Coens brother creation. So despite Hail, Caesar! involving a tap dancing Channing Tatum, I had my reservations.
Lo and behold, I actually quite enjoyed their latest effort. Even if I didn’t completely get the overall point of it. Interestingly enough, the usual fans have judged Hail, Caesar! as possibly the Coens’ weakest effort so far. Because it’s more accessible, perhaps? But only just.
Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a Hollywood ‘fixer’ in the 1950s; his job is to keep the studio’s stars in line and deflect unwelcome publicity. Among the various films in production on the lot is ‘Hail, Caesar!’ starring Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). When Whitlock is kidnapped, Mannix is tasked with finding the ransom money, all while managing his various other stars (Alden Ehrenreich, Scarlett Johansson, and Channing Tatum) and weighing up another job opportunity.
Hail, Caesar! pays clear homage to 1950s Hollywood, with George Clooney appearing to be straight out of Ben Hur, while Channing Tatum channels Gene Kelly in a cheeky sailors routine. Keen audience members familiar with 1950s cinema will recognise stars of the classical Hollywood era in every main character, and for those with a more basic knowledge (such as myself) there’s still much to appreciate.
There’s no denying that this all-star cast is a ripper. George Clooney should do comedy more often, and Channing Tatum should do cheeky sailor dance routines in everything from now on. Bit parts by Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand are highlights, and Alden Ehrenreich will have hearts aflutter with his cowboy schtick.
It wouldn’t be a Coen brothers film without a bit of obscurity, and unsurprisingly it veers into a weird (though not entirely implausible) direction when the motive for Whitlock’s kidnapping is revealed. Where this film is likely to fail is in its insistence of having it both ways. It may be slightly too obscure for the general movie going public, and not obscure enough for the Coens’ usual followers. But whichever way you slice it, it still involves Channing Tatum as a tap-dancing sailor. I approve.