Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Kidnapped 5 February 2016
Once the Coen Brothers find their groove, they prove they’ve still got their satirical Midas touch.
It’s a fabulous cavalcade of stars, including small roles for luminaries such as Scarlett Johansson, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Christopher Lambert and Tilda Swinton. But the lead stars are George Clooney and Josh Brolin in this comic kidnapping caper involving all sorts of Hollywood’s secrets and sins.
It’s the 1950s and Capitol Pictures Studios is cranking out a panoply of pictures. There’s a gloriously colorful aquatic dancing musical, a western, a high society romantic drama and, at the center of Capitol’s blockbuster release schedule, a sandal epic.
That sandal epic, Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ, is a mega-budget Bible movie that stars Capitol’s biggest name, Baird Whitlock (Clooney, Burn After Reading). Naturally, the studio wants to ensure nobody – NOBODY – is offended by the movie’s content.
Enter Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin, No Country for Old Men), Capitol’s head of physical production, amateur gumshoe and devout Catholic. In what sounds like the setup for a joke (okay, well, actually it is a setup for a bunch of jokes), Eddie invites a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, a Protestant minister and a Greek Orthodox priest to the studio to discuss the portrayal of God and the Holy Trinity. Naturally, the conversation gets a little out of hand. (“God is an angry bachelor!”)
Alas, it’s all just another day in the life of Eddie Mannix as Hail, Caesar! follows 27 hours in the life of Eddie.
The charm of Hail, Caesar! Is found in the movies within this movie. They’re affectionate send-ups of Hollywood’s Golden Age. The whimsy and stylings of Fred Astaire, Roy Rogers, Cary Grant and others are both parodied and adored.
And that proves to be fertile ground for the Coen Brothers to bite the hands that feed them while also patting the Hollywood beast on its head.
DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson, Chef) is a gorgeous starlet, but one with a disturbingly rough Bronx accent. And she’s had a child out of wedlock, a situation that threatens her wholesome public image and the studio’s reputation. Eddie will fix that.
There’s a gosh darn swell star of cowboy pictures, Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich, Beautiful Creatures), who’s being pushed into a dialogue-heavy high society drama. Uh. The speech patterns of a guy used to speaking with his stunts don’t fit in with the well healed. There’s a solution for that.
But most problematic is the kidnapping of Baird, right off the set of Hail, Caesar! shortly before filming of the movie’s most dramatic scene.
Fixing that one will take a little more footwork.
All of these scenarios run their own course; there isn’t a clever multi-pronged climax that tidies up everything in one fell swoop. And that works fine. As things unravel and resolve and coalesce, a stew of recurring Hollywood hot topics simmer.
Among the ingredients are illegitimate children, homosexuality, Communism, disgruntled screenwriters, exploitation of talent, fretting over Hollywood’s image, the sustainability of the movie business with the advent of TV and the hydrogen bomb.
Yep. The hydrogen bomb figures into the madness.
It’s quite an itinerary on this whirlwind tour. And it’s par for the course in typical Coen Brothers fashion. And, rather inexplicably, this PG-13 movie has a post-credits tag labeling it “R.” One last sight gag? A boo-boo?
Given the goofiness and funny business of the movie that precedes it, that mislabeling seems so oddly fitting as the ultimate last frame.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.