Let’s make this clear: In some big ways, Universal missold Hail Caesar, the latest movie from the Coen Bros. The tone of the campaign may have matched what’s shown in the movie, but in some very real ways the movie does not match the marketing in advance of the February 2016 release.
Set in1950s Hollywood, the movie’s story follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) as he deals with the disappearance of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), a major star at the studio Mannix runs who’s in the middle of shooting a huge swords-and-sandals picture. He’s been taken by a group of Communists who demand ransom, so Mannix has to not only get him back but also keep the news he’s disappeared out of the gossip columns. That’s just one fire he has to put out, though, as he has cowboy actor Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) whose image he’s trying to change and aquatic starlet DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) who he’s trying to get married before her pregnancy starts showing. All the while, Mannix wrestles with his role in the world and whether he’s a good person.
There are at least three disparate stories in Hail, Caesar, but the marketing made it seem like they were all tied up together. If you rewatch the first trailer it seems like Mannix recruits Doyle and Moran along with director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), song-and-dance man Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) and bookkeeper Joe Silverman (Jonah Hill) in the effort to get Whitlock back. But the story actually keeps most of those separate for almost the entirety of the running time, with only Doyle’s story intersecting with the reclamation of Whitlock at the very end.
That doesn’t make the movie any less engaging, though based on the trailers and other marketing I kept waiting for the plot threads to come together more fully in a way they never really do. It’s alright, though, once you lean into it and accept the antics going on among all the characters and realize the kidnapping plot is only the loosest of hooks on with the Coens have hung an excuse to make a movie about classic Hollywood and the studio system. It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey and the brothers provide a heck of a journey to enjoy.
There are a lot of things I could say about what the movie is or isn’t beyond what’s already here, but those might ruin your enjoyment of the story. Hail Caesar immediately leaped in my mind toward the top of the list in terms of my favorite movies from these writers/directors and shouldn’t be missed. It’s unconventional and funny and everything you’d want from the pair.