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Film review: Hail, Caesar! - Coen brothers’ intelligent comedy evokes 1950s Hollywood

George Clooney plays a film star kidnapped while playing Roman emperor Caesar in a sword-and-sandals epic - the cue for some deadpan humour and moviemaking shenanigans and a treat for film buffs

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 March, 2016, 1:31pm
UPDATED : Monday, 07 March, 2016, 3:16pm

Typically deadpan and wry, this latest film by the Coen brothers is an understated romp through the grandiose Hollywood studio system of the 1950s. Held together by an effective, if downplayed, Chandler-esque crime yarn, it touches on Marxist theory, theology, hubris, and even synchronised swimming. Film buffs will find it a treat, while others will be gently tickled by its irreverent, intelligent humour.

George Clooney plays Hollywood star Baird Whitlock, a lunk who’s kidnapped before shooting the final scene of a sword-and-sandals epic about a Roman centurion’s conversion to Christianity. Worried studio boss Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) tries to track him down, while dealing with various other studio problems, notably the inability of singing cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) to act well enough.

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The studio setting allows for some large-scale pastiches of westerns, tap dancing films, and synchronised swimming movies, which are presented with a mixture of love and sarcasm. The various studio shenanigans, very much the stuff of Hollywood lore, are fun to follow, too. Clooney relishes playing the Roman, and infuses the character with vanity while still ensuring he’s likeable.

Tightly scripted and glorious looking, Hail, Caesar! touches on a lot by trying to say very little. Religion and politics have their points, note the Coens, but everything ultimately pales in comparison to the greatest god-given show in the universe: the movies.

Hail, Caesar! opens on March 10

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