When Joel and Ethan Coen want to go serious, they go deadly serious with films like No Country for Old Men or A Serious Man. When they want to be silly, though, they can go full-throttle silly. And make no mistake: Hail, Caesar! shows the Coen Brothers at their silliest in years. Using the Golden Age of Hollywood as a base, Hail, Caesar! takes on the behind-the-scenes insanity of the industry at that time to show, of all things, their love of the movies.
Hail, Caesar! follows a day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a “fixer” for Capitol Pictures whose job requires him to put out different fires for the studio. Among the day’s fires: handling the studio’s move of cowboy star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) towards prestige films; covering up the pregnancy of unwed starlet DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson); and rescuing Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the lead of the studio’s epic Hail, Caesar: A Tale of the Christ, who’s been kidnapped by a mysterious group known as “The Future.” He also has to juggle competing twin gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton), pacify fussy director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), and contemplate accepting a job offer from Lockheed Martin.
One of the more surprising elements of Hail, Caesar! is the way it incorporates religion into the film. Obviously, the epic of the same name created in the film incorporates Christ, but religion comes into play from the opening scene, where Mannix confesses to his priest. While aspects of faith pop up throughout the film, they reach a high point during a scene where Mannix meets with various religious leaders to discuss the film; the conversation quickly turns into a prime example of screwball comedy, as these religious leaders quickly begin to bicker amongst each other.
The concept of religion carries over into the world of Hollywood, which shares the insanity that religion displays here. For all of the shenanigans Mannix experiences throughout the day, though, the film also offers delightfully vivid shots of scenes from other films being produced by Capitol, including both a synchronized swimming number for DeeAnna and a show-stopping musical dance number called “No Dames,” featuring actor Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum). While Mannix may debate whether or not he should leave, his ultimate decision incorporates the way he loves what film can do, in the same way many people hold onto their religious beliefs.
That may be reading far deeper into the film than the Coen Brothers want, though. The way that Hail, Caesar! is structured should feel familiar to fans of the filmmakers, particularly with Burn After Reading. Rather than offer a straight-forward narrative, Hail, Caesar! happily wanders from one narrative to another as it sees fit. It’s not that the narrative isn’t important, but the overall energy of the film is what propels it. And ultimately, there’s nothing particularly profound about Hail, Caesar! It’s a fun tribute to Hollywood, and a chance for the filmmakers to dabble in different types of production. For fans of Joel and Ethan Coen, as well as those with a solid knowledge of film history, that’s more than enough.