As Eddie struggles with his conscience (he is a regular visitor to confession), finding Lockheed’s boast of the first hydrogen bomb somewhat repugnant, he continues to work in his role at the studio. A large amount of his role is devoted to sorting out the various issues and problems that the studio’s roster of glamorous stars present. Eddie is good at his job, and he knows it, receiving each concern with ease. We witness his attempts to save the studio embarrassment at the pregnancy of unmarried star DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) by investing in a scheme that will involve her adopting her own child. Similarly Eddie is involved in helping to redefine the image of gun slinging, acrobatic cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) through his casting in a refined period piece, as well as attaching him to glamorous star Carlotta Valdez (Verónica Osorio)
All of this takes place against the backdrop of the central plot: star of biblical epic ‘Hail Caesar’ Baird Whitlock(George Clooney) is drugged and kidnapped by an organisation calling themselves ‘The Future’ a pseudo-communist group who, in decrying their lack of pay despite their efforts as screenwriters, are determined to shake up the capitalist studio system.
The plot admittedly, does not stand up scrutiny, but then arguably, a detailed, developed plot is not the aim of ‘Hail Caesar’. The film instead, intentionally and successfully sets out to be both homage and a tribute to the grand, hyperbolic films that were generated during the studio system era. It is unclear at times whether or not the Coen brothers intend to deride the era or celebrate it, but that seems to hardly matter when the details of the era are rendered so beautifully (largely thanks to the work of Roger Deakins’ cinematography).
The film whips along, engagingly paced, skilfully interspersing time between the various subplots. Some might find the film indulgent, particularly when the audience is treated to a six-minute long heavily choreographed dance sequence (led by Channing Tatum) in the vein of On the Town, but for those viewers who have clear memories of the film of the era, the faithful execution is truly wonderful.
I have seen the film referred to as a return to the previous style of the Coens; more O’ Brother Where Art Thou than True Grit or A Serious Man. For me, such a description is relatively over simplistic, suggesting that the directors’ films can be neatly categorised and defined as a type. Certainly the film’s comedic stylings holds more in common with their previous efforts with Clooney rather than the later films of their career, but to simply compare the film to an earlier piece is to undermine its efforts. Hail Caesar is an admirable addition to the Coens’ filmography, but it should also be appreciated as a standalone piece. Carefully balancing moments of the absurd and sublime, Hail Caesar is a beautiful film.