Catholics, Communists, and classic Hollywood are all equally celebrated and caricatured in the Coen Brothers’ latest comedy caper. After all, it’s a Christ tale. And a musical.
This madcap examination of one day in the life of a producer during the Golden Age of Hollywood is a behind-the-scenes journey through studio backlots and humanity’s existence. Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) goes from studio to studio in search of both his vocational direction and his missing lead actor, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). Whitlock has been abducted by a “study group” known only as The Future, who demand $100,000 from Mannix if he wants to have his actor back for the studio’s biblical epic Hail, Caesar! Mannix spends his time wrestling with his conscience while trying to snuff out various dramatic fires and keep the cameras rolling for one more day. And time is a big deal in Hail, Caesar! Watches constantly remind us that time is money, and Mannix is on the clock. He’s gotta decide whether he wants to stay with the film industry or take up a new job offer from Lockheed Martin. Movies or airplanes. Risk or security. One of these options will be the future, and he’ll have to choose while searching for Whitlock.
Mannix’s day is filled with quirky characters who could easily find themselves within the world of a Wes Anderson film. While none of the characters are quite given their due apart from Mannix, they each have a memorable on-screen moment in the celebration of their particular genre. There’s the cowboy, the starlet, the leading man, the flamboyant director, and a plethora of others. I’d rather not spoil the dynamics or connections for each of these characters, suffice to say that each plays a role within the day of the producer (some more significant than others to the machinations of the plot). This is one of those films where the trailers give away far too much, and I found many scenes that should have been funny or surprising to fall flat due to having seen them in the trailer. (Jonah Hill’s incredibly brief moment within the film is shown in its near-entirety.) If you’ve somehow managed to avoid the trailers and still want to see this film, I think you’d be better for it. It’s a fine film–the Coens haven’t made a truly *terrible* film yet–but it’s not worth its titular exclamation point.
The film opens with a shot of a crucifix and continues to explore Christian theology for the whole length of the film (remember: this is a tale of the Christ). The best scene in the whole film involves Mannix and a variety of Christian clergy and a Jewish rabbi, the religious figures Mannix has asked to read over the script to make sure the studio is keeping their theology straight and audiences happy. As they discuss the nature of Christ as the incarnate Son of God, it’s both amusing and theologically-rich dialogue. The Coens have done their homework regarding Jesus, and the Christian elements within the film feel strangely esteemed even as they’re being portrayed in a satirical manner. Whitlock’s dramatic speech at the foot of the cross of Christ is certainly affecting while also causing a few chuckles. The film has a peculiar tone, as it’s both funny and serious without ever being too much of either.
In my brief reflection on the Christian themes in Hail, Caesar!, I’m still unsure whether my faith is being ridiculed or respected. It’s certainly there. And maybe that’s enough. No exclamation point needed.
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0475290/