The latest concoction from Oscar-winning filmmakers and brothers, Joel and Ethan Coen, was dreamt up about ten years ago says George Clooney in a recent press release for the movie “Hail, Caesar!” Clooney was working another film for the pair when they asked him if he was interested in playing an actor who gets kidnapped. “They had about three pages of plot written down and a few terrific lines. That’s it. Of course, I said, ‘Yes.’” For years there was talk of this great movie to be made, but no script materialized until much later. They took their time with this one and for that, we can be grateful.
“Hail, Caesar!” isn’t a comedy for everyone. Like other Coen films, the story can become confusing at times wondering what “this” has to do with “that,” but in the end, it all works out beautifully. However, the film is very much a character-driven comedy, meaning that while there are some funny lines here and there, the real comedy is how these characters are portrayed and how they interact with each other. You won’t find any pratfalls here and the plot is less important.
“Hail, Caesar!” aims (and succeeds) to not only spoof the movie industry in the early 1950’s, but to also honor it. Throughout this film we get to see portions of the films that the fictional Capitol Pictures are working on including a dance sequence featuring a bunch of sailors, a shoot ‘em up western, a sophisticated drama, an elaborate water dance sequence with synchronized swimmers and the biblical epic film for which this movie is named after. None of these films-in-progress are real, but reassemble famous films from the time and you can’t deny the beauty and style of these movies.
“Hail, Caesar!” is a mild who-done-it story framed around a normal day for our hero, Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin, who has never looked more like his dad than here), a former bouncer serving the studio of a “fixer.” Mannix spends his days baby-sitting some of the more troublesome stars keeping their images pristine in the public’s eyes. On this particular day, one of the studio’s biggest stars, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) has gone missing, but Mannix can only devote so much attention on this as his schedule is full including:
- Finding a solution for actress DeeAnna Moran (Scarlet Johansson) before the papers get a hold of her personal news. She’s an American icon who seems sweet on screen but has a potty mouth.
- Talking a sophisticated director, Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) off the ledge for working with a less than skilled actor, Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich). Doyle is actually an underappreciated singing cowboy who does his own stunts, but voice-work isn’t one of them.
- Setting up a date for Doyle with Carlotta Valdez (Veronica Osorio) who is a Carmen Miranda-type actress known for singing and dancing with bananas on her head. (The two make for a cute couple and you’ll wish that they had more screen time together.)
- Viewing the dailies with film editor C. C. Calhoun (Frances McDormand in one of the movie’s funniest scenes).
- Putting up with rival gossip columnists and twin sisters, Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both played by Tilda Swinton)
- Visit a live taping of a dance number starring Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum)
And on it goes and through it all, Mannix is aided by his ever-resourceful assistant, Natalie (Heather Goldenhersh)
“Hail, Caesar!” not only captures the era perfectly, but it too itself was filmed like it was filmed in that era as well. Though the film is rated PG-13, it is very tame and has an innocent feel about it. Mannix is seen as a father figure to many of these people and they respect him as such. While some of his “fixing” is questionable, he is only doing his job for a studio that he respects. He is a religious man who is more concerned about his sneaking cigarettes from his wife than he is burying a news story.
The film also depicts an epic biblical film, but the Coen’s never cross the line of bad taste or make fun of the gospel. There is one great scene where Mannix plays referee to a small group of religious leaders discussing the film. One doesn’t like the film to have an actor portray Jesus. A rabbi is against even mentioning Jesus. A pastor tries to explain the trinity. It sound like the scene could be blasphemous but it isn’t. It’s hilarious.