Movies are a religion to some of us, and the Coen brothers have worked their way up from altar boys to clergymen. Some would argue they’ve even been miracle workers. Whether it’s Jeff Lebowski or Anton Chigurh that made you a true believer, there’s a sense of faith their films will bring a cavalcade of colorful figures, memorable dialogue, and a myriad of beautifully executed shots to the silver screen. Many established directors have turned the camera 180 degrees to tell the story of the very industry that made them icons, and Hail, Caesar! is the latest in that elite genre of films.
Welcome to Capitol Pictures, where a day in the life of aptly named studio “fixer”, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), could lead anywhere. Nabbing wild starlets from lecherous photographers and giving the gossip reporters the run around is all in a day’s work, and he does it well for an honest Catholic and family man just trying to keep food on the table. Watching Mannix’s interrupting voice of reason gives a stressful yet comical overtone that makes you realize just how insane this business truly is. Focused on the disappearance of Capitol’s biggest star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), Mannix’s efforts to track him down are constantly interrupted by other problems.
Skillfully darting from set to set, each one treats a buffet of Hollywood’s blockbusters of yesteryear and even makes a few musical numbers inspired by greats like Busby Berkeley and Gene Kelly. Before lunch, Mannix has revamped their biggest western star, Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehreneich), despite his complete inability to act like anything but a cowboy. He has also clashed with diva DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johannsen) over preserving her completely fabricated wholesome image. All this while negotiating with eccentric directors (Ralph Fiennes and Christopher Lambert), and later with an anonymous group of Communist kidnappers. Everyone gives a top notch performance in roles large and small, from the studio attorney (Geoffrey Cantor) to a meeting with religious leaders including Robert Picado as the resident rabbi, who sums up both the meeting and the industry saying “These men are screwballs.” Thankfully, a loyal set of allies: Dutiful assistant (Heather Goldenhersh), reclusive editor (Frances McDormand), and a hilarious cameo by Jonah Hill who plays shady attorney, Joe Silverman, help Mannix carry this chaotic chain of events.
From remarkable back lot sets as only Los Angeles studios could provide, there’s movie magic around every corner with a computer-free approach to recreating pieces of films like Ben Hur. In Hail, Caesar! the Coen brothers have given us a love letter to the golden age of film with a bittersweet tone and enough backhanded compliments to remind us, for better or worse, there’s no business like show business.