‘Actions have meaning when they are in service to the picture.’
Eddie Mannix (Brolin) is a ‘Fixer’ for Capitol Pictures. He meanders intertwining storylines in the style of many a Cohen Bros’ protagonist in order to deal with various stars and their needs, simultaneously trying to live his own life. ‘Hail, Caeser!’ muses upon: Religion, Faith, Capitalism and Communism, and the Hollywood system; all under the veil of being the Cohen brothers’ playfullove letter to early cinema, interjecting Mannix’s journey towards realising just how much he loves his job with thoroughly enjoyable set pieces, which serve as comedic behind-the-scenes tasters of old Hollywood. Mannix must, amongst an array of other things: find a suitable husband for a pregnant starlet, oversee an actors transition from Westerns to Dramas and locate a kidnapped A-lister; all whilst contemplating a job offer from a much less erratic industry.
It’s about a guy realising he loves his job regardless of the fact that he could be doing something much easier. Mannix’s tough decision is paralleled throughout the film by his battle to give up smoking. He knows both are wearing him down, he just loves them both too much to quit. It is his belief in the system gives it it’s power. Throughout ‘Hail Caeser!’, Mannix’s belief in his work is juxtaposed with that of a range of religious preachers, capitalist and communist ideologists, and pompous, self aggrandising Actors and Directors. ‘Hail, Caeser!’ bears the message that although when compared to what is going on in the outside world (World War Two has just ended), the ‘frivolous’ nature of Hollywood is sustained only by our Faith in the pictures and their messages.
Written and Directed by the Cohen Brothers, ‘Hail, Caeser!’ bears their trademark style when it comes to witty dialogue and quirky characters. The film also looks gorgeous, with cinematography handled by longtime Cohen collaborator: Roger Deakins (No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski, Fargo). Due to it’s almost anthologic narrative style, ‘Hail, Caeser!’ suffers somewhat from being choppily edited as it has to manoeuvre between and tie together all kinds of threads. Whilst the Cohens, under their editing pseudonym ‘Roderick Jaynes’, do a good job of tying the film together considering the brief 104 minute run time, perhaps with more space to breath: less of the storylines would have felt under developed and the much-advertised stellar cast would have had more opportunity to shine.
As usual, Josh Brolin gives a solid performance. As the weary yet passionate Eddie Mannix, he leads the audience through the carnival that is Hollywood. Clooney is more likeable than usual as bumbling movie star Baird Whitlock, a typical blank slate actor awaiting direction, which he unfortunately finds in the form of a group of kidnapping communists. Alden Ehrenreich stars as Hobie Doyle, a Western icon attempting serious Drama under the direction of Ralph Fiennes as the ridiculous Laurence Lorentz. Their encounter is a highlight of the film alongside Channing Tatum’s Gene Kelly inspired song and dance number. Unfortunately big names such as Scarlett Johansson and Jonah Hill are somewhat wasted, bringing nothing to the big picture.
Overall ‘Hail, Caeser!’ is light, short and has lots of laughs. Michael Gambon’s narration perfectly captures the tone, epic with more than a hint of silly.