Hail, Caesar! is a flippant, tongue-in-cheek comedy about Hollywood in the 1950s.
Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) tries to do his best to keep the actors and directors of Capitol Studios in check. But when the main star of the studio, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), is kidnapped, everything begins to fall into pieces and the gossip columnists begin to circle threateningly… It’s up to Eddie and a somewhat hopeless cowboy/film star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) to save the day.
The plot includes tap-dancing, a Soviet submarine, and last but not least a quarrel between a Catholic Priest, a Protestant Minister, an Orthodox priest and a Jewish rabbi. It’s about as Coen brothers as a film can get, which means it never misses a step. It’s also laugh-out-loud funny. Especially the scene where an exasperated British director (Ralph Fiennes) tries to teach Hobie Doyle, native of Texas how to practice the sentence: ‘Would that it were so simple…’ So Hail, Caesar! is a film about the magic of film-making. It tells the stories behind-the-scenes, after the director shouts ‘cut’. Hail, Caesar! a story for those who love film, and I’m fairly sure I’ve missed some allusions to 1950s American movies.
‘Would that it were so simple,’ —to quote Hobie Doyle, the film is —‘more complicated than that.’
Hail, Caesar! is a story about creating stories. We tell ourselves stories to give our lives meaning. It is no coincidence that the film Baird Whitlock is acting in is the story of Christ. Eddie suggests that it is only this film that will ‘finally embody the truth of the Gospel’, to which one of the priest responds sarcastically that it already has been embodied. But for Eddie Mannix film is the gospel, it is literally ‘the story of light’.
Pitted against Eddie Mannix , a rather unlikely hero, we have the Communist writers’ group called ‘The Future’. The writers are fed up with getting none of the profits of Capitol Studios, and they kidnapped Baird Whitlock to get back their dues. Among the communist philosophers, Herbert Marcuse makes a cameo appearance to remind us that consumerism is also a form of oppression, and film-making imposes upon the innocent masses. Yet ‘The Future’ is a relic of the past, and the group is incapable of doing anything much other than smoking and discussing different ways of action. When Baird Whitlock returns to Capitol Studios, a newly converted Communist, he only needs a smack in the cheek from Eddie Mannix to return to his money-making senses.
So what is being said in earnest and what is being said sarcastically? Nobody knows.
Reality, the Coen brothers suggest, is a bit too much to deal with. What is left is the convenient lies we tell ourselves, the fake mysticism of the movie-preacher epitomized by Eddie Mannix, and by the lyrics to the film’s excellent trailer song:
‘Don’t you tell me no truths, I want all of your lies.’
And they tell the story so well, it is almost impossible not to believe them.