George Clooney often strays into broad comedy when being directed by the Coen brothers – and does so again as Baird Whitlock, a none-too-bright movie star in Hollywood’s Fifties Golden Age.
Baird is kidnapped for ransom from the set of Hail, Caesar, a groaningly earnest sword-and-sandals epic. Josh Brolin plays the studio’s PR ‘fixer’ who must find him without the public or the media knowing.
This slender plot is a device on which to hang several parodies of Hollywood film styles, including a cowboy movie, an Esther Williams-style swimming ballet (with Scarlett Johansson as its grouchy star), and a terrific imitation of On the Town, with Channing Tatum excelling as its lead singing-dancing sailor on shore leave.
Much of the joy comes from minor performances: Ralph Fiennes as an effete English director coaxing a young star of cowboy films to enunciate clearly; Tilda Swinton playing waspish, gaudily dressed twins, both gossip columnists and deadly rivals.
The story may veer and career all over the place, but as always with the Coens, it’s beautifully shot, laudably accurate on period detail and caustically witty throughout. Still, it’s those virtuoso parodies that sustain Hail, Caesar; they’re inventive, ingenious fun.
Hail, Caesar is in theatres from March 4.
Read David Gritten's insightful film reviews every month in Saga Magazine. Subscribe to the print edition, or download the digital edition today.