Final Rating: 8/10
Time is always ticking on Eddie Mannix’s (Josh Brolin) wristwatch. He’s a tired, no-nonsense Hollywood fixer, carrying from soundstage to soundstage a guilty conscience – still smoking cigarettes after a promise to his wife that he’d stop, but more importantly an existential quandary: is he doing the right thing?
A question he delves into during the opening moments of the film as he sits in confessional, with a priest who couldn’t be bothered. But his day is long and after a quick stint at the divines’ main base of operation, he finds himself barging onto a morally questionable photo shoot between a shady photographer and one of the studios innocent young starlets.
Twenty-Seven hours later at the film’s end, he finds himself back in confession, still smoking and unsure, but in between, he’s helped Capital Pictures avoid a multitude of similar PR disasters.
From the retrieval of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the studio’s charismatic leading man, kidnapped by a communist “study group” that holds its secret meetings in the luxury of a Malibu beach house. To dealing with aquatic beauty, DeeAnna Moran’s (Scarlett Johansson) out of wedlock child – a persona she quickly sheds off camera for a crass attitude and a Jersey accent. His days are busy, with little time for introspection.
However, the film’s standout scenes come with Eddie’s third fix. Ensuring the smooth recasting of a young, dim-witted, John Wayne type, Hobbie Doyle (played excellently by Alden Ehrenreich) in a drawing room feature. He walks with the gait of a seasoned gunslinger, legs rigid from years of riding, visibly uncomfortable in the black tux they have him wearing. Trouble arises immediately on set when he can’t deliver lines for his director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) and the ensuing action plays out as the film’s most hilarious moment.
An ensemble so large would easily crumble in less skilled hands, but with the Coen’s it is excellent, every performance reminding us of that long forgotten Hollywood magic. Shot through the always-excellent lens of Roger Deakins, this was a time when movie stars were at the epitome of idolization and musicals were selling at the box office. The personalities were larger than life – a perfect pairing for the Coen’s knack for writing memorable characters. Hollywood was covered in stardust and movie magic was real. Gossip, too, was at all time high. Reminded to us by two fiercely competitive gossip columnists, obsessed with one-upping each other, twin sisters Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both played by Tilda Swinton).
Underneath all the comedy, nostalgia, and excellent storytelling the Coen brothers ask the question: what is the right thing? The communist study group provides its answer in the form of simple economics, help for the little man. Capitol Pictures gives its answer by selling movie magic. Dreams. And religion simply states to do the right thing. Man must traverse these murky waters in search of a personal code that makes sense for him. One which is illusive and hard to understand and that is what the Coen Brothers’ have weaved together with incredible craft and a mix of their characteristic wit and humour. “Hail Caeser!” is full of charm and the crazy cast of characters that gave the Golden Era of filmmaking its legendary status, a love song to Old Hollywood and undeniably a Coen Brothers’ Picture.