Hail, Caesar! - Opinion
Ever wanted to know what it was like to make movies in the '50s? A time period in which the very mention of the word "Commie..." had an anti-national vibe and was put down by the big machines in America? By machines I mean the ginormous industries that drove American consumerism at the time. Well, the answer to the aforementioned question is, watch the Coen Brothers' new film, "Hail, Caesar!". On one level its a comedy/satirical look at communism vs. capitalism led by a great nearly all-white-male cast (Not that I'm criticizing this film for that; This actually serves the films message even more. The actual industry on a whole, however, has quite a lot of work to do in terms of diversity...) playing people in the entertainment business. On another level, it provides audiences with a look at the power and grand structure movie studios of the time had on nearly every "factor of production" (A phrase repeated often by a communist trying to convince one of the characters to join their cause), including the actors themselves.
Most notable are the two leading men. Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, a Hollywood fixer who, well, "fixes" things for the studio. Making sure that everything is perfect for the studio, he slaps around big-shot stars, orders female actors to date or not to date other people, depending on how it would affect her public image, and also keeps everyone in line so that a film's production may go on smoothly. (i.e. the wheels of capitalism may turn as smoothly as ever thanks to the work of Mr. Mannix). George Clooney goes slightly meta, playing an actor names Baird Whitlock who stars in a film called "Hail, Caesar!" which attempts to depict the story of Christ. Whitlock is a sort-of stupid, presumptuous terrible actor-but-super-star who screws up on important lines of the film, struggles to emote for the camera in the film being produced and gets slapped around by Mannix. The duo get along so well, it makes for excellent comic relief.
Ralph Fiennes has a supporting role as a film director, Laurence Laurentz. Laurence is an established director who presumably has both critics and audiences alike in love with his previous work. But when he is forced to work with a terrible actor who is used to acting in westerns on horseback with all the film crew several hundred feet away on his dialogue drama shot on a controlled set, he loses it. Alden Ehrenreich plays Hobie Doyle, " A cowboy by trade who was plucked from obscurity by Capitol Pictures to become a leading man."(Description taken from Hail, Caesar official website: www.hailcaesarmovie.com), who lacks any basic acting talent. The two share a memorable and hilarious scene together, and the pitting of the established artist against the uninitiated "actor" is quite a treat to watch for just the comedy of it.
The Coen Brothers' film primarily wants to look at the movie studio as the powerful institution that it was. It shows us the grand sets that the studio built for these magnificent "prestige-pictures" that Hollywood made in an effort to deal with the rise of television, and to ease the fears of communism and the resulting decline in movie profits of course. The latter is a much more important factor to the directors, as the film twists and turns to show us who the real "commies" are and who turns out to believe in the "commie" cause. It has a lot to comment on both the literal ownership of factors of production by large studios of the time as well as the high level of control it held over all the people involved with them, mainly the public face of things: The actors. The film also ruminates for some time over Biblical imagery. For the film being produced inside this movie is centred around the story of Christ, it tries to build a redemptive story for the lead character, Mannix at the end too, but doesn't tie all loose ends up like the typical film of the time it takes place in. A group called "The Future", which consists of a bunch of communist intellctuals, often discuss economics, politics and other high-brow subjects with the dumb-founded Baird Whitlock, who is the epitome of a victim of the capitalist machine, and on a meta-level it was extremely hilarious in the satire the film was trying to present.
Bottomline: There is a lot of important stuff that the film explores, particularly the time period and the "Red Fear" combined with the all-powerful dream-manufacturing movie studio, and at the same time it manages to be an entertaining dialogue-driven film at the most superficial level. Good job, Ethan and Joel Coen! Can't wait for what's next!