The Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar! is both a mockery and celebration of 1950s Hollywood cinema. What little storyline the movie has follows the mugging of George Clooney’s Baird Whitlock, the star of Capitol’s biggest film, but that’s just one among many of the things Head of Physical Production Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) has to sort out.
Eddie’s the man who keeps the studio running at peak productivity, checking on movie sets, soothing disgruntled directors, and sorting out the press (Tilda Swinton as rival twin sister columunists). The absurdities of the creative industry are revealed in a comical manner: actors can’t pick who to date, directors can’t choose who to cast, producers have to please a boss who has no idea what’s happening on the ground.
As Eddie flits from place to place, we are treated with a highly entertaining pastiche of the best of old-school movies. There’s Scarlett Johansson as a mermaid in an elaborate synchronised-swimming sequence featuring a massive mechanical whale; Channing Tatum as a sailor boy in a musical tap-dancing in a bar with his fellow sailor boys; and Alden Ehrenreich doing some fancy cowboy moves in a Western film and singing with a guitar.
Everything is silly, but it’s also downright amazingly done. The cast all give their best, and while the different storylines don’t always join well, Hail, Caesar!’s search for Hollywood’s soul is ultimately all about enjoying the journey.