Photo from hailcaesarmovie.com
By Matthew Levine
A famous Hollywood star wakes up in a shock. He’s been kidnapped. But his captors have left him free to roam about their luxurious mansion. He hears a loud commotion coming from a room off in the distance. Upon opening the door, he notices a group of rich old gentlemen staring back at him. One of the men raises an eyebrow and asks, “…Wondering what’s going?”
You may ask yourself the very same question while watching the new surreal, complex and goofy film by the Coen brothers. However, you’ll be far too entertained to really care about your own confusion.
Set in 1950’s Hollywood, “Hail Caesar!” depicts a day in the life of Eddie Mannix, a Hollywood fixer who’s made a career out of dealing with studio headaches. While the real-life version of Eddie Mannix was a seriously corrupt figure in old Hollywood, this fictionalized version of him is played with innocence and sincerity by Josh Brolin.
It’s clear from the beginning that while the Coen brothers are presenting us with many historical figures and events, they are simultaneously being as ahistorical as possible. Big issues like the effects of World War II and the threat of communism seem to be skewed in a zany manner in order to emphasize the ironic fakeness of the time period.
Throughout this rather eventful day, Brolin’s character deals with all sorts of issues regarding the actors that are contracted to the powerful studio he works for. He’s constantly berated by a pair of twins — both played by Tilda Swinton — who run a gossip column designed to smear the studio. He’s sassed at by Scarlett Johansson’s character, an actress who can’t fit into her mermaid outfit due to her unexpected pregnancy. He’s pressured by the higher-ups to convert a B-western star (Alden Ehrenrich) into a romantic leading man. And finally, the studio’s most talented actor (George Clooney) has been kidnapped by a group of screenwriters who have become sworn communists.
Each of these vignettes — along with countless others — play out as if they were each their own little short films. In the beginning, they seem to have little to do with each other. However, the Coen brothers have a way of tying them all together in a profound and thematic way.
While any other director would probably make a train wreck out of a movie with so much going on, these auteurist filmmakers seem to present each sub-plot with ease and precision. Somehow they’re able to defy all genres while at the same time including every single one into an hour and a half runtime. While the movie is without a doubt a mess, it seems to perfectly portray the insanity of Hollywood in a timeless and entertaining way.