Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is what is known as a fixer at the Capitol Pictures movie studio, an executive answerable to the big boss but given carte blanche to do what he must to keep the company's wheels well-oiled and running, which considering the act of making a film is like herding cats what with all the talents pulling in different directions, is not easy. In fact, the stress of the job is putting Eddie through an existential crisis as he seeks meaning in what he does day by day, and he is seriously thinking about giving it all up and taking an equally lucrative but far easier position in an aerospace business. If going to confession daily isn't enough to keep him afloat, then a day like the one he's about to have might well finish him off for good...
One of the Coen Brothers' comedies, this met with a mixed reception on release with many fans of their comedies not finding it funny enough and fans of their dramatic work finding it frivolous in the extreme, and it would seem never the twain would meet to agree on a consensus about the picture. Ostensibly a look at the Hollywood of the nineteen-fifties and all the trials and tribulations that came with that, it operated certainly as a parody of the styles of the past, with enough of a wink to the era it was released in to have us feel suitably superior to the artificiality and coded themes inherent in the cinema of those days. It acknowledged that some form of the auteur theory might have merit (look who was directing this, after all), but also that the architects of movies may not be so obvious.
Therefore with all those influences at work in the studio system, it was not too surprising that an authorial voice would be heard, though it might not be the director's, it might be the actor's, the writer's, or even the man at the top, the head of the company who was orchestrating the whole shebang. Call him a Godlike figure, as we never see him in this case and for all we know he may not even exist, but with enough people believing in him and trying to please him it was clear there was a presence either in actuality or theoretically. It was important to note that this film's title card was shared with the Biblical epic currently being completed when we catch up with the characters, and it had a subtitle: "A Tale of the Christ", the sort of thing you’d find on The Robe or Ben-Hur when Biblical efforts were big box office.
But who was the Christ in this case? You’d have to look to Eddie, whose faith is sorely tested throughout his troubling day, and it was not insignificant that at one stage he met with four religious leaders to discuss the merits of their latest would-be blockbuster only to discover that despite them all purporting to worship the same deity, they still couldn't agree on what he was like or what his purpose was. Wasn't this state of affairs very much like making movies, the Coens posited, where a bunch of people were brought together to create something ultimately ephemeral, even nebulous, that only existed in their minds before they could finally bring it into being? And even then, like a memory or a belief, it took its place in the mind rather than being an object you could appreciate all at once in its entirety?
Yet while this could have been a high-falutin' intellectual exercise, luckily for fans of comedy, and in particular fans of movies from decades past who this appeared to have been crafted for, there were some very silly scenes in this to position itself as a trifle sitting up and begging to be liked; ingratiating was not a word best used to describe the Coens' filmography, but Hail, Caesar! was assuredly a shaggy dog of a story. Or more than one story with Eddie to draw it all together, mustering a highly impressive all-star cast with such delights as George Clooney as a kidnapped movie star in danger of going all Patty Hearst, Scarlett Johansson as a wholesome Esther Williams type who might just scupper her career and the studio's profits with an unplanned pregnancy, Channing Tatum proving he could dance in Gene Kelly style, Ralph Fiennes as the precious director trying to get a performance out of miscast cowboy star Alden Ehrenreich (an actual breakout star here), and so on, with even the one scene wonders exhibiting ingenious casting. If ultimately it was conflicted as to where its heart lay, it found worth in affectionately sending up some actually rather serious subjects. Music by Carter Burwell.