Time Out says
The Coens return to making elaborate yuks in a backstage Hollywood comedy that's fast and funny.
It couldn’t have been easy for the Coens to just be silly again, especially after such recent soulful triumphs like Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) and A Serious Man (2009). God love ’em for insisting on it: Hail, Caesar! weds the backstage Hollywood shenanigans of their 1991 gem Barton Fink to a more manic pace. It doesn’t seem new for them, yet as super polished, mannered, slightly surreal comedies go, the movie feels as rare as a unicorn.
As ever with these siblings, the details win us over. Hail, Caesar! is set within the unusually rich seam of transitional early-’50s showbiz, a moment when swimming sirens (Scarlett Johansson) and singing cowboys (Alden Ehrenreich, deceptively sharp under his 10-gallon hat) rubbed elbows with finicky European directors (Ralph Fiennes, extending his sublime comic run from The Grand Budapest Hotel) and secret Communist “study groups.” At the top of the food chain is Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), a Kirk Douglas–like A-lister who’s been drugged and smuggled off the lot of his epic Roman picture. Enter Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), the studio’s fixer, worried about the fallout.
The plot never runs out of steam, but you’ll soon see it as an excuse for dazzling bits of business: a spaghetti strand turned into a lasso, an excruciatingly funny piece of on-set dialogue direction (some cowpokes will never become urbane smoothies) and Channing Tatum in a screwy-sailor dance number that plays like a reason to make the film. Purring over it all is that great wizard Michael Gambon, whose stuffy, orotund narration supplies a self-mockery that’s our cue not to take any of this seriously. Is Mannix, occasionally seen in a church confession box, actually in pursuit of something higher? Don’t be fooled by the backdrop.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf
Cast and crew