By Kyle G. KingGet a handful of bartenders together in a room and they’ll blab for hours about every ridiculous aspect surrounding their job (no, you can’t come in before we’re open — we have work to do and you’ll just be in the way). It’s a cathartic and strangely gratifying exercise to unpack the droll baggage of your job into the ears of people who can empathize with it. And Hollywood today has no cinematic stewards more proficient in movie mixology than the always enigmatic Coen brothers. Their latest film, Hail, Caesar!, engages an all-star cast of oddball characters for an insider’s perspective of 1920s Hollywood that analyzes, lampoons, and delights in the mythos and eccentricity of their industry’s so-called Golden Age.

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a powerhouse Hollywood “fixer” at big time movie studio Capital Pictures (a fake production company also found in the Coen’s 1991 industry flick Barton Fink). Though Mannix is known for keeping the big budget productions on track and the big-headed creatives in check, he finds his daily toils much more taxing after “it-man” Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) goes missing from his trailer while shooting the studio’s grandest feature yet, the aptly-named “Hail, Caesar!”. A series of cartoonish shenanigans plays as a completely normal workday while Mannix and his team of actors, writers, and executives deal with just another odd day earning just another odd dollar in a business culture of extremely odd people.


As the film flip-flops from a movie about movies, to deep conversations about religion, to a highly entertaining, homoerotic song-and-dance number featuring an original song from Channing Tatum, Hail Caesar! gives the Coens — and every single actor involved — a well-deserved chance to finally have some pure, unadulterated fun with passion-project subject matter they no doubt have been itching to scratch. The slapstick portrayals of movie stars Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) and DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), vainglorious director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), and movie-scoop reporters Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton playing twin sisters), all are as warmly charming as much as they are wholly annoying. And though the film is more comedically hammy than the Coens have ever gone for before (maybe a close second is their 2004 flop The Ladykillers), the organic pleasure this loose environment provides these actors is contagious enough to bury the flatter plot mechanics that lay sagging underneath.

It’s difficult to gauge how much a broader non-industry audience might be able to digest a movie as insider-specific as Hail, Caesar! (a theory that holds water given the film’s current 73% critics rating and 66% audience rating at Rotten Tomatoes). But with a stacked cast of A-List stars swinging for great laughs — and in the expert hands of the Coen brothers — even those not familiar with the film’s minor Red Scare plotline should still find themselves chuckling at Channing Tatum’s ridiculous blonde hair and George Clooney’s numbskull Roman attire. Though nothing truly sticks to anything and each character’s arc ultimately amounts to them simply shrugging and moving on with their lives, it’s great fun to be able to watch professionals have fun at what they do by shamelessly mocking the industry they’re in.

As the uncredited voice of Michael Gambon fades the movie out just as it did in, the narration provides the grand meta-analysis framework of a movie within a movie within another movie about movies. Hail, Caesar! graciously lets its audience in on the inside joke of Hollywood’s yesteryear, just to appreciate how far we’ve come as industry and hopefully, as an audience.

Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Produced by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner

Written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Channing Tatum

 7.5 out of 10