Joel and Ethan Cohen’s love of Hollywood’s Golden Age runs deep. From 1991’s Los Angeles screenwriter drama Barton Fink to 2001’s noir pastiche The Man Who Wasn’t There, these brothers wear their old school influences proudly. In the lavish Hail, Caesar! they get to fully indulge their passion for the early 1950s MGM era of cinema, covering everything from camp musicals and snippy romantic dramas to classic cowboy capers and epic historical films.
The story charts an action-packed 24 hours in the life of Capitol Pictures executive Eddie Mannix, played with ’tache and trenchcoat sporting panache by Josh Brolin. The No Country For Old Men actor isn’t the only Coen brothers favourite reeled out in the A-list cast. George Clooney sparkles as an easily suggestible alcoholic leading man, offering up some of his finest physical comedy since O Brother, Where Art Thou?; Scarlett Johansson plays a femme fatale with a hefty Brooklyn accent, a string of broken mobster marriages and a knack for swimming; and Frances McDormand’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it turn as a chain-smoking film editor is equal parts hilarious and harrowing.
But the film’s stand-out stars are newcomer Alden Ehrenreich (Blue Jasmine), Magic Mike hunk Channing Tatum and British icon Tilda Swinton. Ehrenreich’s dim, country-fried singing cowboy has speech impediment issues lovingly lifted from Singin’ In The Rain; Tatum’s tap-dancing Gene Kelly clone’s sailor-themed song and dance routine ‘No Dames’ is a spectacular show of high-gloss campery; and Swinton excels as a pair of highly-strung gossip columnist twins.
Yet it’s not just the perfect cast that makes Hail, Caesar! such a fully-formed delight – the set design, costumes and locations are seriously sexy too. A beachfront home that rivals the John Lautner-designed pornographer’s party house in The Big Lebowski is particularly stunning, while the super-slick outfits rival 1997’s similarly period-pitched LA Confidential.
Funny, flashy and fast-paced, Hail, Caesar! is proof not only of the Coen Brothers’ effortless command of some of the most important actors in modern cinema, but their commitment to creating and crafting a wholly believable – and endlessly gleeful – vision of the past.