"fans of classic movies will revel in Hail, Caesar!’s parody and there is a lot of fun in the performances of an impressive cast"

It’s perhaps unsurprising that it’s taken so long for the film industry to pastiche its ‘golden age’ of the 1950s, when studios controlled stars and gossip columnists with a firm hand. It’s a pity too, since there are some fantastic stories of that time, some more dramatic than the fictional stories for the screen.

Slightly overdue then, it has taken the unconventional duo of Joel and Ethan Coen to look Hollywood’s past square in the face and mock it for all that it’s worth. Hail, Caesar! boasts a catalogue of today’s stars who take on ambiguous parody masks of past icons, from George Clooney’s Charlton Heston to Scarlett Johansson’s Esther Williams.

The film summary, in short, starts with fictional Hollywood actor Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) being abducted on the set on his latest production Hail, Caesar!. Suddenly it’s up to the over-worked ‘fixer’ Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) to cover up the loss of the studio’s biggest star.

The plot itself is fairly thin, as the film gives plenty of time to its various cameos and side plots in order to create the parody. Indeed, its target of mockery is so specific that it risks losing those less familiar with the original material, making Hail, Caesar! a gift to a particular number but alienating too many. That includes a fair number of a younger audience who didn’t come along because of their long-cherished soft spot for that sprightly silver fox, George Clooney.

For those in the know, however, there’s a certain delight in how the directors have happily cherry-picked some dramatic stories from real life in the studio days. One such steal is a remake of the tale of real-life Hollywood actress Loretta Young’s hidden child. As the history goes, the secret baby was adopted and re-adopted in a mask that ended up fooling nobody when she grew up, having clearly inherited the distinctive ears of Young’s previous co-star, Clark Gable.

The film also boasts some great gags. Channing Tatum as a flamboyant dancer is clearly loving every moment as he shows honed tap dancing skills and Tilda Swinton owns two parts as a version of gossip columnist Hedda Hopper with the addition of a fictional twin. Still, despite an A-list cast, the breakout performance comes from relatively new actor Alden Ehrenreich, who plays a sweet but hilariously dim-witted Western star called Hobie Doyle.

A segment on the underground Communist movement in Hail, Caesar! is also intelligent enough to be treated lightly, especially considering the somber fact that the real-life suspicion around it at the time began to irrevocably destroy the careers of many in the film industry.

Yet whilst it’s a fun watch, it’s still a film that is unashamed about just how domineering and toxic the studio system could be in controlling their stars’ lives, both publicly and privately. Then again, when we now live in an age where TMZ is popular and personal meltdowns are captured and broadcast to the world, it’s difficult to know whether things have fully progressed for the better.

Ultimately, fans of classic movies will revel in Hail, Caesar!’s parody and there is a lot of fun in the performances of an impressive cast. Previous Coen brothers genre pieces may be more audience-friendly and relatable, but this provides a laugh for all the audience at some point. It’s just a pity that their target is done so specifically that some may find they’re stuck witnessing an in-joke that isn’t shared patiently.