Hail, Caesar (2016) is directed by the Coen Brothers and features an all-star cast ranging from George Clooney, Channing Tatum, Josh Brolin, to Scarlett Johansson. It examines a day in the life of a 1950's studio fixer, Eddie Mannix (Brolin), as he attempts to keep Capitol Pictures afloat and running smoothly.
Ostensibly, the film is about the mysterious kidnapping of Capitol Pictures flagship star, Baird Whitlock (Clooney). Although the trailers for the movie made it seem like Clooney would drive the plot, Hail Caesar is much more an omnibus, nostalgic love letter to cinema.
And if you're romanticizing cinema, shooting a movie about a movie studio has its advantages. As the Coens takes us from soundstage to soundstage, we're treated to delightful, inner workings of movie sets. Through their performances, colorful personalities (played by A-list cameos - Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes' being some of my favorites) give us a tour of the reality and culture of working in 1950's Hollywood. Hail Caesar felt like a dramatized film history class. We see into the black box of film production; multiple directors, actor politics, gossip columns, shooting process, and set designs. We see the beginnings of the Cold War Red Scare and the Hollywood blacklist against film professionals with Communist sympathies. One of my favorite scenes takes place in the editing room. It is a gorgeous set piece; Brolin's character speaks with an editor who is cutting the dailies from an earlier shoot. The editing equipment's motors whirs, hums and pops with all kinds of physicality. Each physical cut into the celluloid film reminds us both of how far film technology has come, and of the magic editors have in creating the world we watch on screen.
The Coens, by using the films being filmed on the studio backlot, accompany us on indulgent dives into many multiple popular genres of the decade, from musicals, adventures, melodramas, westerns, to noirs. The main film that we, the audience, watch plays as a dark comedy/mystery.
Ultimately what makes Hail Caesar great are its characters and its loving attention to film history. The Coens have always excelled in creating odd, offbeat characters that capture our imaginations and memories. Granted, in narrative heft, the film is light, opting for vignettes and short snippets of life. The resolution, if one can call this conclusion a resolution, is minimal. There's not much here for those who were looking for the next Coen dark mystery like Fargo or No Country for Old Men. Additionally, much of the enjoyment comes in the form of cinematic Easter eggs, movie references, and visual nods for those who understand the context and history of post-WWII Hollywood. However, in the end, Hail Caesar is a delightful, playful walk through a day in a transitioning 1950's American studio system. Don't look for a conclusive end; just enjoy the journey, it's a fun one.
Find the film: here