A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio's stars in line.
Hail, Caesar! lines between drama and comedy get blurred, but so do the lines of what makes a good story. Coen Brothers celebrate the movies of this era and have some good-natured fun at the expense of the system that produced them. This film is full of real world specific references ranging across nearly 15 years, beginning with Capitol Pictures based openly on MGM in the 1940/50s. There's a lot of variety in the Coen's formula and an extremely wide range of tones. But all of their stories eventually come down to the question of whether the protagonists have any sort of personal moral compass, whether they follow it, and how the world punishes them if they stray from it. In a blind viewing, the average cinephile could probably identify this film as a Coen Brothers picture, because of their signature: serious people taking ridiculous situation gravely, straight-faced film references, several distractingly famous people taking on cameo-levels roles and George Clooney playing a dummy. The main theme is a man following his code, but also, the craziness of man, the nature of faith and the terror of trying to figure out what path through life is the correct one to take.
This film showcases the greatest cast the Coens have ever assembled. Josh Brolin character is a fast, decisive thinker who doesn't examine his choices once he's made them; though he was really good, funny and likable as Eddie Mannix. Plus, a great performance comes from the 26-year-old Alden Ehrenreich, astonishingly good at playing a bad actor and surprisingly selfless. This film deals more directly with existential questions than most best-known feature films about filmmaking; about the frustrations of the business, most of them feature characters touching on the questions "Why do I do this? Is it really possible to make art under these conditions? Am I selling out? Should I get out of this business while I can?". While divided on these questions and the industry in-jokes are nearly always funny, this film is unabashedly in love with Hollywood and regards the 1950s studio system with the utmost scepticism even as it becomes an expression of movie love at its purest.
Hail, Caesar! delights in the genuine magic of the old studio machine and it luxuriates in the details of this period. As ever it is the details that win us over. This is a very weird movie but in a good way because it's different. The cinematography by R.Dickens is beautiful. Coens Brothers craft seemingly grinds to an even sharper point of perfectionism and clarity than usual. The most sublime moments in the film occur when the behind the scenes machinery drops away, the films being produced become the film we're watching and we're invited to lose ourselves in a state of vintage Hollywood.
Next to these gemlike moments - which the Coens very smart editors of their work as always, refuse to linger on - the story being told here all fades into insignificance : Baird's disappearance is resolve with little tension or surprise which leaves some narrative holes: it's rather an excuse to explore 1950s Hollywood than the other way around.
Overall, Hail, Caesar! is a noising new testament to that old time religion known as the movies. This film is one of the Coen's most serious pictures as well as their silliest.