Who Are We? The Future. - Hail, Caesar!
Hail, Caesar! takes a look at one hectic day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a movie studio executive in 1951 Hollywood who oversees a number of projects and stars. His day begins before sunrise, when he hears that one of his talents is supplementing her income by posing for suggestive photos. Once he arrives at the studio, he learns that another actor, DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), has become pregnant out of wedlock. A third, Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum), works with a chorus of singers and dancers on a musical. Mannix also makes plans for the evening for the premier of a western starring Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich). Meanwhile, he also has to deal with problems with Hobie on the set of his current movie, a high society film directed by Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes). Eddie also meets with clergy of several faiths about the big project on the lot, an epic about the death of Jesus Christ told through the eyes of a Roman soldier played by Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). Meanwhile, gossip columnists Thora Thacker (Tilda Swinton) and her twin sister Thessaly (also Swinton) want comment from Mannix regarding a rumor circulating about Baird and an alleged encounter he'd had with Laurentz years earlier.
Baird's shoot, though, also has an issue - Baird's not there. Someone spiked a drink he had during a scene, and arranged to remove him from the lot. An unconscious Baird is taken to a beach house filled with screenwriters who tell Baird of their affiliation with the Communist Party. They have also left a note for Mannix to give them $100,000 for Whitlock's safe return. While he works on that deal, he works on another deal for DeeAnna to adopt her own baby with Joe Silverman (Jonah Hill), a trusted associate who has done many favors for the studio discretely. Only one of the actors knows the situation with Baird, and follows a person upon seeing that person with an object that actor knows Mannix once held in his possession. Through this day, Eddie also makes time to have a quick meal at home and meet with a person from Lockheed who thinks Eddie should start working for the airline industry.
Hail, Caesar! is the third entry in the Numbskull Trilogy, whose pervious entries consisted of O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Intolerable Cruelty. The creators were Joel and Ethan Coen, and the star of all three was Clooney. While I enjoyed the first two entries, I found Hail, Caesar! the best of the Trilogy simply because the Coens don't rely on quirky humor to work, and paint a realistic picture of the studio system during the Red Scare era. These are people who know they're stars, but still make mistakes that would put people of lesser status in a lot of trouble. Some of the character inspirations are obvious. DeeAnna, for example, is loosely based on Esther Williams, and the Thacker twins were inspired by legendary gossip Hedda Hopper. This movie from the Coens should not leave any viewers numb in the head. It's a lot of fun, with a surprise or two about the characters as the mystery of Baird's disappearance reaches its resolution.
The Coens have also gathered a fine ensemble in this fast-paced romp. Brolin has to juggle a lot as Eddie, and he may have a lot of frustration on his hands. He always thinks quickly, and makes daily visits to confession at his church. He knows money cures a lot of problems, but he's also tough enough to confront Baird physically in one of the movie's funniest scenes. In spite of all of his work, he's still a family man with a future to ponder. Clooney is also very good as Baird, the Hollywood star who is easily impressionable, whether he's with his captors or in other studio-related business. Ehrenreich steals his every scene as the simple and humble cowboy star Hobie. Another of the best moments in the movie comes on his studio-arranged date with fellow studio entertainer Carlotta Valdez (Veronica Osorio). As he entertains in a fashion more suited to a younger man, viewers can wonder whether Carlotta is truly amused, or wondering why the studio asked her to have this date. Besides Osorio, Frances McDormand has a great cameo as C. C. Calhoun, a film editor who literally gets a little wrapped up in her work. Johansson, Fiennes, Hill, and Swinton also contribute solid support in their onscreen moments. Michael Gambon provides a dignified narration of events.
I usually prefer a Coen Brothers drama to a Coen Brothers comedy, as the Coens seem to be more comfortable and profound with drama than comedy. I don't think Hail, Caesar! reaches the heights of Blood Simple, Fargo, or No Country For Old Men, but this is one of their better comic efforts. Eddie Mannix has many long days in his position with Capitol Pictures, but he has grown used to all of the activity associated with it. He knows how to handle any challenge. He somehow manages to remember what matters the most, in spite of the demands of his day. Hail, Caesar! shows Mannix knows how to satisfy all the people who need him, and he makes sure the shows and his talent overcome all problems.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Hail, Caesar! 3.5 stars. If we only had...faith.