The Coen Brothers have always been directors switching between genres —Fargo is a crime drama, O’ Brother Where Art Thou is a comedic odyssey, and Miller’s Crossing dips into the gangster pool —so naturally, when their ode to the movies is medley of both everything Coen and everything cinematic.
Hail, Caesar! follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a Hollywood fixer whose job is to clean up the messes the public would love to find. The latest problem is Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the premium talent for Mannix’s Capitol Pictures, who has disappeared while filming his latest movie (bearing the same name as the actual film).
Other than finding Baird, Mannix also must deal with DeeAnn Moran (Scarlett Johansson) having the illegitimate child of one of the studio’s directors, budding young star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) struggling with his new director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), and two reporters (both played by Tilda Swinton) pressing for their latest scoop. Among the chaos, Mannix is also playing with the idea of getting out of the game and taking a more stable job.
But, stability is something this movie is never infatuated with. If this is the Coens’ ode to the movies, their love is in the spontaneity and energy that the business features. The film shifts between different genres without much warning, doing its best to present the chaos that Mannix is hired to manage.
The plot doesn’t seem cohesive, but this seems more of a device. The point is never to sit and wait for the action to come to you, but to follow the action as it happens. In this way, the audience moves much like Mannix — doing his best to keep up with each new scandal and news break while also managing them the best he can. By the end, the Coens hope that we will have had such a great time taking this ride that we would want to stay for much longer — and they’re right.
Hail, Caesar! could’ve gone much longer. We could’ve spent more time decoding Hobie Doyle’s speech (spoken perfectly by breakout star Ehrenreich) or sat and learned more about the “little guy” from the group of communists trying to woo Baird Whitlock, but there just wasn’t time. This is the Coen’s version of the movie business and this version is manic and consistently in motion.
For most of the movie, Mannix seemingly fixes problems almost out of thin air. When he makes it home for a short period of time, his wife mentions to him that the problem their son’s baseball team was resolved without having to intervene. “Hmm. I guess it solved itself,” he replies as he digs into dinner.
Life solving its own problems is something familiar for the Coen Brothers and in Hail, Caesar!, it seems more out front than ever before. At one point, the movie studio is facing a host of issues and conundrums and the next, everything is solved. Mannix didn’t have his hand in each one of them, but he surely was happy some of them worked themselves out.
This concept, or the Coens’ form of religion, propelled the action — this sense that actions have consequences and don’t necessarily have to be intervened with to solve every problem. In this way, the brothers reckon with religion much like they have in Fargo or O’ Brother Where Art Thou or A Serious Man. Random acts happen and we can either find meaning in them or just move on with the rest of life.
Hail, Caesar! does not look to connect the dots and make a perfect picture because like life, it is full of mishaps, confusions, and misunderstandings that make way for curious moments and happy anomalies. Much like Mannix and the movie, we have to smile and just pan up to the sunny sky.