Hail, Caesar! is the latest movie from Joel and Ethan Coen. It is a movie with many spinning parts (with some anachronisms) that join to form an entertaining film.
In 1952, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) runs Capitol Pictures, a movie studio. Even though he’s not the head of the studio, he’s making all the decisions that matter, the ones that allow them to keep making movies. At least six films are in play, and we catch glimpses of them all. He spends his time problem-solving, juggling the media, movie crews, and the actors who get ‘into trouble’. Eddie is also at a juncture in his life, and is faced with a decision. He’s being wooed away from the movie business by a company that’s made a very lucrative offer. He’s been mulling it over, and has postponed making the choice, because he’d rather that someone else make it for him.
Eddie’s primary focus is on bringing the filming of the movie “Hail Caesar!” to its conclusion. It’s about a Roman centurion, who’s life is changed by the arrival of Jesus. Baird Witlock (George Clooney), is the star of the film, and he has a scandalous past. He is kidnapped before the final scenes, and Eddie originally thinks he’s gone on a bender.
Meanwhile, one of his other stars, DeeAnna Moran (Scarlet Johansson), the star of a Busby Bekeley-style water ballet film, has become pregnant, and needs to finish the film before she’s showing. It doesn’t help that she’s single, which was the height of scandal in those days. Another problem for Eddie to work out.
The studio head has decided that one of his “western” actors needs to be cast in a high society film. Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is pulled from shooting his current Western and thrown into a newer film, directed by Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Feinnes), and it doesn’t go well. Eddie has to make it work.
There is so much happening in this movie. Tilda Swinton plays twin sisters who are rival gossip columnists, played for comedic effect. Channing Tatum is a singing and dancing sailor in a musical called “No Dames!” Even Francis McDermond, wife of Joel Coen, has a scene.
I daresay this juggling act of movies within the movie, coupled with the off-screen antics of the stars, is very reminiscent of Robert Altman’s work. It all makes sense, more or less, and it culminates in a rather satisfying way. I’m fairly certain that water-ballet films had reached their height in the 1930s, and were not being made in the 50s, and Scarlet Johansson’s behavior is more like Katherine Kepburn’s performance in His Girl Friday, but that is a relatively minor quibble. I haven’t brought up the kidnappers and their agenda, but I will leave that for you to discover.
I do recommend this film, but I will say it requires a bit more focus than most. This is one of the ‘tamer’ Coen brothers movies, and there’s little violence beyond fisticuffs.