A long time ago—in the heteronormative fifties—in a land far away—pre-strip mall Los Angeles—Hollywood was inhabited by directors, writers, and actors who were paragons of taste, intellect, and scruple. This, of course, is a fairy tale—and fodder for Joel and Ethan Coen’s Hail, Caesar!, a farce about, and in the style of, the classic Hollywood movie produced in the heyday of the studio system. Josh Brolin plays a studio manager who puts out fires around the clock for Capitol Pictures, a stand-in for MGM. Scarlett Johansson plays a gruff Esther Williams type, on the set of a Busby Berkeley type picture. Alden Ehrenreich plays a Roy Rogers type—good with a lasso, bad with dialogue. Tilda Swinton plays a pair of gossip-columnists based on Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. Channing Tatum plays a Gene Kelly type, a tap-dancing sailor with a surprising secret. And George Clooney plays Baird Whitlock, a Kirk Douglas type. Whitlock’s kidnapping drives the plot of the otherwise digressive film, which includes well-staged dance numbers. Although Hail, Caesar! deals with dueling ideologies—communism and capitalism, Judaism and Christianity—its subject is stories themselves, whether they are about Jesus or Marx.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White