with George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansen, Channing Tatum.
It is 1951 in Hollywood, and Capitol Studios has several pictures in the works. There is the mermaid picture with swimming star DeeAnna Moran(Scarlett Johansen). There is the musical comedy with dancing sailors starring Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum). There is the drawing room drama with tasteful dialogue directed by Laurence Laurenz (Ralph Fiennes). Most importantly there is the picture that gives the title to the movie– Hail, Caesar, or the story of the Christ starring Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) as a centurion.
Each movie comes with its set of problems. The mermaid star has a problem that can only be solved with marriage. The star of the drama is in rehab so a replacement actor needs to be found. When a cowboy actor, Hubie (Alden Ehrenreich) fills in, it turns out he is incapable of the dialogue because of his extreme West Virginia accent. Then Baird Whitlock is kidnapped by someone claiming to be “The Future.”
The man in charge of solving all of these problems, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a studio “fixer” goes from set to set, offering solutions. He has a tempting offer from another company in a completely different industry that promises higher pay and shorter hours. Plagued by the juggling act of keeping his talent on track and his family from feeling abandoned, he goes to confession every day and expresses his guilt.
The Coen Brothers do some wonderful things. They put four religious men in a conference room to determine whether “Hail Caesar!” Story of the Christ” is going to make any waves with their individual congregations. Most successful is the feeling of studios run by Jews including some recent emigres from Europe trying to satisfy a white bread Christian population. The water ballet movie, both under and above the water prove the Coens know what an audience always loves: pure spectacle. The mere image of swimmers lying flat and prone and then turning their bodies up to show one color and back to show another is fascinating .
A “study group” consisting of disgruntled Communist writers agitates for more money and credit. Hollywood is not only the subject of the movie, but its location, and you may try to forge an alliance with Russia and the communist way of doing things, but the movie proves that in Hollywood the star is king.
Not that there isn’t more to the movie than that. There are the hideous twin gossip columnists played by a delicious Tilda Swinton. And there is the matter of that religious picture which is about faith, something that the workers in this silly entertaining and sometimes artistic industry occasionally show as they go about their business of providing product to its audience.