Four-time OscarĀ®-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men, True Grit, Fargo) write and direct Hail, Caesar!, an all-star comedy set during the latter years of Hollywood's Golden Age. Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum, Hail, Caesar! follows a single day in the life of a studio fixer who is presented with plenty of problems to fix.


Hail, Caesar! sees the Coen Brothers returning to more screwballish comedic fare than their recent offerings in a gloriously mounted pastiche of 50s era Hollywood, inhabiting the same world as Barton Fink but in a much more playful register. Though a half-hearted plot means that by the time the film reaches its abrupt ending, the initial feeling is one of slight disappointment. The brothers commitment in getting all the details spot on is impressive but the film lacks a coherent and satisfying narrative that might have made it truly great instead of just very good. Its central 'major star being kidnapped' plot in particular is resolved in a perfunctory and throwaway fashion.

Though if the film feels underpowered overall, the incidental pleasures are many.The recreation of old school Hollywood genres is dazzling. From biblical epics and hokey Western Oaters to Esther Williams-style synchronised swimming extravaganzas and Gene Kelly musicals, the Coens forego their usual cynicism to present a seemingly lavish and sincere adoration for the kind of entertainment that 50s audiences consumed in their masses. The ever dependable Roger Deakins brings them to life with such skill that they wouldn't seem out of place in any actual film from that era.Many of them do little to advance the plot but that's probably quite fitting as they are intended to copy scenes that served a similar function in films of the time. They were 'showstoppers' pure and simple and so it goes here. There are also some great comic scenes along the way. An early one of religious leaders discussing the on screen depiction of religion is hilarious.

The cast is also impressive. Josh Brolin leads effectively as a studio fixer, with an unshowy but solid performance. Excellent support comes from George Clooney as a typical Coen lunkhead character, Ralph Fiennes as a posh British director, Tilda Swinton as twin sisters/gossip columnists, Frances McDormand as a chain smoking editor, Scarlet Johannsson as the swimming starlet and Channing Tatum as a musical star. Tatum in particular is a joy. His turn in an extended, hilariously homoerotic, sailor dance sequence (to a tune called, with a typical lack of subtlety, 'No Dames'), is a definite highlight.

The real find however is relative unknown Alden Ehrenreich as a dim Western star. Whether he's struggling with simple lines in an entirely unsuitable role in a sophisticated drawing room comedy or passing the time waiting for a premiere date by doing rope tricks, Ehrenreich steals every scene he's in with a likeable comic performance. He's been an actor for a while but really makes his mark here.

On initial refection, and due to its slightly uninvolving central plot, Hail Caesar! does feel like a minor Coen Brothers offering. However it is one that has more than enough to make it essential viewing for any fan. Minor Coen Brothers is still better than most current studio output. Whether it adds up to anything beyond being merely a 50s Hollywood pastiche is up for debate. No doubt some critics will tie themselves up in knots trying to search for a deeper meaning behind it all but that's probably just how the Coens would like it.

Review by Kevin Knapman

Hail Caesar! (12A)

1h 46m

Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson,

UK Release: Friday 4th March  2016