“Would that it were so simple” – Alden Ehrenreich as ‘Hobie Doyle’
Hail, Caesar! is the latest in a long line of superior movies made by the Coen brothers. Their formula of creating interesting stories and characters, assembling outstanding casts and creating completely engrossing results is on display here.
This is George Clooney’s fourth collaboration with the Coen brothers. Clooney plays “Baird Whitlock” one of the biggest stars of 1951 Hollywood. He works at Capitol Pictures where “fixer” “Eddie Mannix” (Josh Brolin) is the guy who makes any problem disappear. He works around the clock, leaving little time for his wife and kids. He has an offer on the table for more money and shorter hours to run an aerospace company, and they want an answer.
Then someone kidnaps Whitlock from the set where the titular “epic” production is about to shoot its big climax. The kidnappers are demanding $100,000 in ransom. Then there’s the mess that “DeeAnna Moran” (Scarlett Johansson) has made. An Esther Williams-like star of swim films, she’s pregnant and in 1951, sweet innocent female stars can’t have kids out of wedlock. Western film star “Hobie Doyle” (Alden Ehrenreich) has just been moved away from the oaters by Mannix’s unseen boss to star in a dramatic film being directed by “Lawrence Laurents” (Ralph Fiennes). The fact Hobie can ride and rope with brilliance but can’t act his way out of a wet paper sack makes this another problem for Eddie. Then there are the sisters Thacker. “Thora and Thessaly Thacker” (Tilda Swinton) are both Hollywood gossip columnists and both are trying to get the lowdown on stories involving Baird Whitlock. Of course there is a musical being produced starring “Burt Gurney” (Channing Tatum).
Eddie Mannix has some help in ‘fixing’ things for Capitol Pictures (yes, the same studio in Barton Fink). His able assistant “Natalie” (Heather Goldenhersh) is always there keeping him on schedule and when he needs someone to do something involving difficult things, “Joseph Silverman” (Jonah Hill) is the person Eddie turns to. Since it is a Coen brothers movie, Frances McDormand is there, and she’s a delight as a film editor.
The plot lacks a laser-like focus but its meandering doesn’t really impact the humor and great dialogue to any serious degree. It is definitely Josh Brolin’s movie and he owns every moment he is on-screen. George Clooney’s role is small but as always the Coen brothers use his talents to their best advantage. Alden Ehrenreich is lovable as the innocent young star of Westerns who turns out to be a bit more savvy than one might expect. Fans of movie making will love the attention to historical accuracy on both the large and small scale. The feel of the era is captured and not just in the costumes and argot either.
Just so you know, there really was an Eddie Mannix and he really was a Hollywood fixer. But for MGM, not the fictional Capitol Pictures and he was most well known for his work from the mid 1920s onward.