Opening the 2016 Glasgow film festival is the latest comedy from the Coen brothers. The film sees the lauded film makers return to a more comedic story after a good few years of straight up drama.
The film is the story of a day in the life of movie studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). He is the one who makes sure everything runs smoothly and any problems with his roster of actors at Capitol pictures (As featured in Barton Fink). The day starts off normally at 4AM, rescuing a starlet from a scandal and goes on from there. The difference today lies in the fact that the lead actor in the studio’s prestige move Hail, Caesar! has been kidnapped. On top of this he has a star (Scarlett Johansson) who is unwed and pregnant, a director (Ralph Fiennes) who is unhappy with his new lead actor’s inability to deliver a line of dialogue and the offer from Lockheed who are looking to recruit Mannix.
The film is structured around the performance of Brolin. He is superb in the role. He seems to be the consummate professional who seems to thrive under pressure. What is actually happening is quite different. In the opening scene Mannix is in the confessional. He is struggling with what he is doing and feels he has a duty to confess his sins. Tellingly it is his guilt over his lying to his wife and smoking cigarettes that are the sins exposed, not any of his day-to-day offences that he cannot divulge even to a priest. He stands conflicted. He wants a future for his family and the Lockheed offer looks it may be the solution. He is not certain though as his heart is in the movie business.
The Coen’s have created a film that is a snapshot of an a well-loved era in film making. We go behind the scenes of a multitude of films. There is the musical number featuring Channing Tatum which acts as as a homage to Gene Kelly, an aquatic spectacular with Scarlett Johansson as the star, a western comedy, a drama and of course a biblical epic starring George Clooney. It highlights the conveyor belt set up in the period and the problems that managing these movies entail.
The film consists of a series of interlocking episodes revolving around the central character of Mannix. As such there is no real principal actor as most of the star names get limited screen time. The nearest we get to a headliner is the George Clooney performance. He is ideally cast as the movie star Baird Whitlock. He is a shallow and vain man who is easily led. When he is kidnapped he shows no distress at finding himself in the hands of communists but settles into conversation and debate. Clooney plays him relatively straight and allowa the dialogue to define the character.
The other parts, big and small, are all filled by well known actors. Many have collaborated with the Coen’s on more than one occasion. Every role is given a bit of depth and each actor is given their chance to shine. The highlights from the cast are Ralph Fiennes as the director. He is the quintessential Englishman abroad and his wry delivery is one of the funniest things about the film. Coming a close second is Tilda Swinton as the gossip column twins Thora and Thessaly Thacker. Once again it is a memorable and delightfully comic turn.
Overall, a funny and hugely entertaining return to comedy from the Coen brothers. Highly recommended.