Joel and Ethan Coen, better known as the directing duo the Coen Brothers, film Hail, Caesar! will not appeal to everyone. That’s for sure. It’s best described as a comedy, but it doesn’t just sit in that genre the whole time which makes it feel a bit disjointed. The irony, I think, is that that is the point of the film.
Hail, Caesar! is, on the most base level, a film about an actor named Baird Whitlock, played by George Clooney, getting kidnapped by a gang of communists, for a ransom to be paid by the studio.
Now, there are a lot more parts to this film. It’s set in 1951, the Coens hid this in roman numerals in one of the titles, and the real story is about Josh Brolin‘s character Eddie Mannix. Mannix is what is known as a Hollywood fixer. That means he makes sure everything at the fictitious Capitol Pictures going smoothly. He handles all sorts of potential scandals and possible defamation that can fall back on the studio in anyway.
That means the movie is really about how Mannix’s life is a total crap show. He is torn in a million directions at once. There is really 5 different plot lines that are only connected by the Capitol Pictures and Eddie Mannix. This split of life really allows for the Coen Brothers to show their love of cinema. They incorporate 5 different movies into their movie.
The Coens are able to show off their love of cinema by showing the studio lot in numerous shots that glamorizes the industry. They also are able to incorporate 5 different movies within their film. There is a the wrapping of a western with Alden Ehnrenreich as the lead, then he gets sent to work on a serious drama directed by Ralph Fiennes. This leads to one of the funniest scenes in the film. Ehnrenreich’s character, Hobie Doyle, is known for being a western actor, so when Fiennes’s character, Laurence Laurentz, is directing him seriously, they have a really funny exchange do to Doyle’s lack of acting ability. Just another problem for Mannix to deal with. The third film is where Scarlett Johansson gets in the film. Her character, DeeAnna Moran is starring in a mermaid musical, so they have a really cool dance sequence. When it’s over Moran is talking to Mannix about her being a single mother and it being a bad look for the studio, so he has to fix that. The fourth movie shown is Channing Tatum‘s character, Burt Gurney, in a sailor dance number. This makes for an incredibly entertaining bit itself. Gurney ends up being the leader of the group of communists that kidnapped Baird Whitlock. Tying him into the Mannix troubles as well. The fifth movie in the film is where the main plot comes from. It’s Whitlock film titled “Hail, Caesar!” depicting the first coming of Christ.
The character writing is incredible. The introduction to Eddie Mannix is a scene where Eddie is busting in on a private “photo shoot” with one of the studio stars. He kicks the photographer out of his own home and tells him to get lost. He then turns his attention to the actress. He gives her a fake story after slapping her to get her attention. As they are leaving, the police enter the building and Mannix has to pay them off to not recognize the starlet and keep quiet and get the photographer. This is what sets him up as the problem solver for the studio. We also get to see the opposite side of Mannix. He always seems to care for his family, but he is torn between doing what’s easy and what will make him happy. There are a few scenes that provide some retrospective comedy where a man from Lockheed is offering Mannix a job as a manager. This would allow him to be with his family more and be able to retire earlier. The Lockheed official even questions the sustainability of the film industry because they don’t know what will happen once everyone has a TV in their house. Mannix decides to talk it over with his wife, a progressive idea in the 50’s. When he does though, she simply turns the question around and says that Mannix knows what’s best. Mannix is shown in confession at the beginning of the film saying it’s been only 24 hours since his last confession and then at the end of the film saying it’s been 27 hours. The priest is pretty exasperated at how often Mannix comes in there, but the priest does give him some advice on the job situation.
The film is extremely beautiful with the cinematography. The Coen Brothers make each film look to be shot in a way that makes the film look like it is from the 50’s, and they play up the joke of how musicals, westerns, and religious films were popular during that time. Each scene is just pretty to look at.
The Coens did a really good job on this film with multiple gags, but the disjointed stories do make it not appeal to everyone. The only real downfall of the film is that there is too much going on. There is a beauty in that though as well. Hail, Caesar! seems to be making the statement that the right thing isn’t the easiest path, but instead of just saying that, the film depicts it in a 28 hour span of Eddie Mannix’s job.
There is a little concept that I really loved though. Mannix calls a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, a Protestant minister, and a Greek Orthodox patriarch in to give their opinion on whether Hail, Caesar! will offend anyone with its depiction of Christ. This scene, obviously, leads to some hilarious gags about religion, and that is coming from the son of a Baptist preacher. But there is a time where Mannix says he thinks there is a little big of God in all of us. This idea is played on throughout the whole film in ever decision Mannix makes. How he just follows his gut and goes with what feels right. The last time in the confession box he asks for career advice from the priest, but he words it in a way to question whether the easy way is better or what he feels is the right way. The priest says that the feeling in him that is telling him what is right is God’s way of telling you what decision to make. This idea is pretty powerful. It empowers everyone. It’s also hinted at when Mannix’s wife says he knows the best decision when it comes to his job. This is like she is suggesting everyone has a little bit of God in them because God is the ultimate power and He knows and wants what is best for his people.
Hail, Caesar! is a bit disjointed, but overall it is a very high quality comedy with many layers. There are some jokes that are pretty shallow, but then there are some that take some thinking and digging to really enjoy. The general audience may not receive it very well, yet it is still very entertaining with high powered stars that deliver amazing performances.