“Hail, Caesar!” is an ode to old Hollywood. A homage through and through, it’s less of a message-driven story and more of a day-in-the-life film that follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) around in his 24/7 job as a Hollywood fixer for Capital Pictures Studios in the 1950s. Joel and Ethan Coen’s follow-up to 2013’s “Inside Llewyn Davis” isn’t as contained as their previous films and there are a lot of things going on, references to the Golden Age of Hollywood and the like. But although it’s not a particularly straight shooter, it’s hard not to be entertained by “Hail, Caesar!”
Mannix (Brolin) has his work cut out for him. He lives in a world where movie stars, and their reputations, are very much the property of whatever studio they’re in contract with. From Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), who has a starring role as a Roman general in “Hail, Caesar!”, a movie inside a movie, getting kidnapped by Hollywood communists for ransom (because the studios are evil and ripping them off), to Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), an actor who can only sing and spin a lasso, being assigned to posh director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), Mannix’s job is to make sure everything runs smoothly and on schedule. In between all of this chaos, Mannix is being courted by another employer and he must choose an easier life or continue on in what is constantly referred to as a “circus.”
“Hail, Caesar!” is cinematically beautiful. It carries a very old-fashioned look and feel to it. The Coen brothers pay very much attention to detail and it’s noticeable in the references made as well as the sets displayed. It’s obvious they hold old Hollywood in very high regard but are able to poke fun of it a bit, most especially with the use of the communist plot, which is outrageously comical and absurd.
If the Coens have anything in particular to say about ’50s Hollywood, they don’t make it a point to focus on it. The film’s frenetic need to include almost all aspects of the film industry–the gossip columnists (twin writers played by Tilda Swinton), the date setups by studios, and the attempted cover-up of an actress’s (Scarlett Johansson) pregnancy out of wedlock–becomes a bit of an overload and some of it falls through the cacophony the film’s built up for itself.
It’s to the film’s credit that there happens to be so much to enjoy (like the dance and song sequence by Channing Tatum, who’s clearly channeling Gene Kelly) that it ultimately feels useless to try and argue that there isn’t a point to the film other than to be and hour and a half long ode to Hollywood. Clearly, everyone involved is having a good time, and between the costumes, sets, the absurdity of it all and the witty dialogue, “Hail, Caesar!” has enough going for it to entertain but doesn’t aim to be anything greater than what it is.