For their first comedy since 2008's Burn After Reading, filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen return to Capitol Pictures, the fictional studio that employed the doomed protagonist of 1991's Barton Fink. Hail, Caesar! offers the tale of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a no-nonsense Capitol exec who must contend with a whole lot of nonsense from pregnant mermaids, extortionist Marxist screenwriters, bickering religious experts, competing twin gossip columnists (played by Tilda Swinton) and a plot to kidnap the star (George Clooney) of the studio's latest Ben Hur-style epic, the film-within-a-film that gives this one its name. It's literally all in a day's work.
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum. Opens Feb. 5. HailCaesarMovie.com.
The real-life Eddie Mannix was, like Brolin's character, a notorious "fixer" at MGM during the heyday and twilight of that studio's golden age, whose possible role in the death of George Reeves was dramatized in 2006's Hollywoodland. In the Coens' universe, the fictionalized Mannix is gripped by a crisis of faith. A devout Catholic and loyal company man to his core, he finds himself, not unlike the Roman legions whose story he's bringing to the screen, a foot soldier for an empire whose façade is beginning to crumble.
On the one hand, he's tempted away from his demanding job doing the often-misguided bidding of studio boss Nick Skank (a constant presence, despite never appearing on screen) by the offer of a much cushier position with a maker of apocalyptic war machines. On the other, he must contend with a shadowy cabal that literally dub themselves "The Future." Whether he will stand firm as a defender of the American way of life (that Capitol is but a few letters different from capitalism is no accident) marks the film's central dramatic tension.