Glasgow Film Festival: Star-studded, brazenly frivolous comedy from the Coens
Despite their famously impenetrable mystique, it must be an annoyance to writer-director team the Coen brothers that their more serious efforts (Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, No Country for Old Men) are widely revered, while their out-and-out comedies (The Hudsucker Proxy, Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers) are often less enthusiastically received and occasionally considered misfires. Their latest film, set in the 1950s during the Golden Age of Hollywood, is a frothy, silly concoction that curdles into a sagging soufflé long before its time is up.
The presence of George Clooney as Baird Whitlock, a vain actor starring in a biblical epic, has been much trumpeted, but the main character in Hail, Caesar! is actually Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a skilled studio fixer with a full-time job keeping errant talent like aquatic star DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) out of public disgrace. Whitlock is kidnapped by a secret syndicate known as ‘The Future’, forcing Mannix to involve himself in a complex case of blackmail, with the potential politicisation of Whitlock by Communists providing a further obstacle.
The fragmented plot is a framework for a series of accomplished pastiche musical numbers featuring stars like Johansson and Channing Tatum, while there’s also inside joke fun in the form of amusing cameos from Christopher Lambert and Ralph Fiennes as pampered directors, and from Jonah Hill and Frances McDormand who are amongst Mannix’s mob of helpers. But, with little at stake other than the destination of a suitcase full of studio cash, Hail, Caesar! is hamstrung by forced frivolity – a gang-show featuring an over-qualified cast doing extravagant turns unencumbered by narrative purpose.
Any Coen brothers’ movie is an event, and there’s enough wit and whimsy on show to satisfy most cineastes. Audiences who are not in on the joke, however, may find this kind of knowing self-indulgence to be nothing more than a dazzling waste of the considerable talents involved.
Screening on Wed 17 & Thu 18 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2016. General release from Fri 4 Mar.