Few contemporary filmmakers create works that require more reflection than the Coen brothers—and that applies even when they’re turning out one of their “lighter” comedies. Set at a Hollywood studio circa 1951, it follows “Head of Physical Production” and all-purpose fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) as he puts out a variety of fires over the course of two days: dealing with a pregnant, unwed actress (Scarlett Johansson); deflecting the investigations of gossip columnists; and facing the kidnapping by Communists of star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) from the set of a Biblical epic. The brothers have a blast creating scenes from the production of several different kinds of era-appropriate movies, capturing the goofy delights—and occasional closeted subtexts—they offered. And while the result often feels less than fully cohesive, Hail, Caesar! eventually comes together as a celebration of movies as a kind of secular belief system. As wonderfully silly as it is in its individual moments—and, typically for the Coens, in its deadpan-perfect performances—it’s also surprisingly thoughtful about the way a crazy, cutthroat business still manages to manufacture things that transport us.
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