Hail, Caesar! could be the most Coen Brothers Coen Brothers film yet made.
Set in Hollywood's Golden Age (as is the Coens' Barton Fink), with a cast of Coen company vets including George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Frances McDormand (aka Mrs Joel Coen), Tilda Swinton and Scarlett Johansson, it also features a kidnapping (Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski), real-life entertainment industry types (Inside Llewyn Davis had a young Bob Dylan), a manhunt (No Country For Old Men, True Grit) and a mocking but genuine affection for genre movies of the past (all of their work except The Ladykillers, which danced on the grave of the genre film it was remaking). Plus, there's Ralph Fiennes, whose late-career turn to comedy makes you think you've seen him in a Coen Brothers film, yet Hail, Caesar! is in fact his first.
Clooney plays a leading man who disappears during the making of a Roman epic; Brolin is Capitol Pictures' head of physical production – the studio's fixer – who has 24 hours to track down his company's asset, and keep the story out of the papers, for the sake of the film and Hollywood's whiter-than-white reputation.
Despite having favourite ticks and tropes, the Coens are perhaps alone in being able to excel at comedy, drama and genre movies. After the perfectly pitched pathos of Inside Llewyn Davis, Hail, Caesar! is a return to the screwy comedy of Raising Arizona and Lebowski with movie-buff credentials of the highest order.
If you prefer real-life tales of vintage Hollywood, then Jean Stein's West of Eden, a new oral history of moneyed movie-making Los Angelenos, takes the less-trodden path from oil tycoons to the first studio moguls to Rupert Murdoch, via Lauren Bacall, Warren Beatty and Dennis Hopper.
Hail, Caesar! is out on 4 March. West of Eden (Jonathan Cape) is out now