They don't make films like they used to. The golden era of Hollywood is behind us; epic tales of passionate romances or joyful motion pictures brimming with song and dance have been replaced by movies driven by box office returns. However, the latest work from the Coen brothers takes us back to where these films were fodder for audiences around the world - giving us a glimpse behind the scenes of the kind of films we can only reminisce about.
There's plenty to keep Capitol Pictures Studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) busy at work - his job involves ensuring the seamless running of production schedules, quashing unwanted publicity, convincing directors of his boss' casting choices, and even playing Cupid to the studio's naïve stars. When Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the star of Capitol's next prestige picture 'Hail, Caesar!' goes missing, Mannix has to track him down whilst keeping the news from gossip paper vultures Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both played by Tilda Swinton), cover up DeeAnna Moran's (Scarlett Johansson) out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and smooth over Hobie Doyle's (Alden Ehrenreich) rocky transition from westerns to a period drama.
There are more stars in this film than you can count on your hands and feet combined. Further to those already mentioned, you have Ralph Fiennes as the esteemed director Laurence Laurentz, Frances McDormand as the whip-smart editor C. C. Calhoun, Channing Tatum as the all-singing, all-dancing star Burt Gurney, Jonah Hill as the studio's cover-up man Joseph Silverman, Alison Pill as Mannix's very understanding wife, and Michael Gambon as the film's narrator. Without exception, the cast relish their roles with the utmost respect to a bygone era of filmmaking. A lot of fun is to be had with the scenarios, and at no point does anyone drop the ball.
The look of the film is also vital to its success; Joel and Ethan Coen, along with cinematographer Roger Deakins and the entire set and costume team, have crafted a film that appears to be pulled straight from the 1950s. Attention to detail is superb, particularly when the audience is observing a film within a film.
The cast relish their roles with the utmost respect to a bygone era of filmmaking.
The story is something of a curiosity. With Mannix's work creating the overarching foundation, we jump between vignettes, getting an overview of a variety of dilemmas he's faced with. Through this, we find rich and well-developed characters and some spectacular musical numbers and cinematic sequences. Yet as a whole, the plot never really develops - we come out with a resolution at the end of the film, yet seem to have retraced our steps back to the beginning of the story.
There's a real classic feel to 'Hail, Caesar!'; the best way to describe it is 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' meets 'Singin' In The Rain'. The film is visually superb, entertaining, star-studded, and yet lacks a substantial storyline. Nonetheless, it's the perfect kind of escapism guaranteed to take you back to a time when, at least on the surface, Hollywood appeared pure and perfect.