If ever a film deserved to be called a “romp” it’s the Coen Brothers’ newest creation. The story centres around Josh Brolin as the real-life Hollywood “fixer” Eddie Mannix. Heading up Capitol Pictures we see him fix his way through a busy day of problems, interspersed with beautiful homages to classic cinema. Although the real Mannix had somewhat of a reputation of being a murderous, wife-beating gangster, the Coens have painted him as a much more likeable character, and Brolin breezes through the day with charismatic pragmatism. Mannix must negotiate with communist kidnappers while simultaniously keeping several scandals out of the hands of rival journalist twins Thora and Thessaly Thacker, both played by Tilda Swinton, and decide upon his own career path.
George Clooney plays Baird Whitlock, the kidnapped star of the studio’s big blockbuster, and film’s namesake, Hail Caesar! Clooney plays the naive star with ease and draws out the anticipation of the kidnap by magnificently overacting between almost-sips of drugged wine. Whitlock is then whisked away to the mysterious lair of “The Future” (I know it sounds screwy, sir) a communist group of writers, and held to ransom. In one of my favourite surreal scenes he wakes on an old squeaky sun-lounger to the sound of a vacuum cleaner clumsily hitting the door and as he explores the house stumbles upon his captors in the midst of a meeting which, still dressed as a Roman, he joins.
Meanwhile Western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) has been cast in a period drama at Mannix’s behest, much to the dismay of the director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). Doyle, too, fears that the part is too much of a stretch for him, as witnessed in the brilliant lesson in pronunciation from Laurentz seen in the trailer. Ehrenreich is superb as the sweet but simple Doyle, managing to act poorly… very well.
We’re treated to performances harking back to the “golden age of cinema”, including a camp tap-dancing sailor number starring Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) and a synchronised swim number from which the scandalously pregnant DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) emerges as a mermaid. These scenes are spectacular and beautifully shot, capturing the optimistic escapism that was the core of industry in the 50’s.
The story juxtaposes the ludicrous with the mundane in spectacular style, echoing the facade of the movie business and the gritty underbelly that Mannix “fixes”. It’s beautifully shot and wonderfully acted. Definitely worth a watch.