Hail, Caesar! ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
We’re in sun-drenched (except when it’s raining) Hollywood in 1951. Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a decent fellow who goes to confession a lot and loves his family, is an executive at Capitol Studios. His job involves getting his “stars” out of trouble when they go astray and seeing that production runs smoothly. His trampy “aquatic” star, DeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), is going to have a baby and doesn’t have a husband. This isn’t good for her screen image, so it’s up to Eddie Mannix to find a solution. Mr. Skank, head of the studio, wants cowboy star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), who speaks with a decided Western drawl, to star in a “drawing-room” drama based on a Broadway play. Hobie Doyle is in no way suited to such a role, but Mr. Skank is the boss, so what he says goes.
The studio’s biggest star is Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). Gossip columnist Thora Thacker (Tilda Swinton) is threatening to publish a potentially damaging story about Whitlock in his early days in Hollywood that involves “sodomy.” It’s up to Eddie Mannix to make sure this story never sees the light of day. As if this wasn’t enough drama, Baird Whitlock is kidnapped while Hail, Caesar! is being filmed. He plays the lead in the film (the studio’s “prestige picture of the year”) and production can’t go on without him. When the kidnappers (a communist “cell” of disgruntled screen writers) demand a hundred thousand dollars in ransom, it’s up to Eddie Mannix to deliver.
Hail, Caesar! was written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, the most innovative filmmakers around, so it’s about as wry and sardonic as you might expect. In spite of a subplot about Communism and a bizarre scene with handsome tap-dancing movie star Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) boarding a Soviet submarine with his small dog just off the coast of California, the tone throughout is light and frothy. We see a couple of big 1950s-style production numbers, with dancing sailors in a bar lamenting not having any dames at sea and a big splashy pool number with swimming star DeAnna Moran and dozens of girl swimmers (think Esther Williams). There are even some moments of slapstick, as when as when cowboy star Hobie Doyle is being given direction by prissy director Lawrence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) and when cigarette-smoking film editor, C. C. Calhoun (Frances McDormand), gets her neck scarf caught in the editing machine and nearly strangles. Those two scenes alone are worth the price of admission.
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp