Hail, Caesar!: A Tale of the Christ
starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes
written and directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
by Walter Chaw Halfway through the Coen Brothers' Hail, Caesar!, studio head/fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin playing Jon Polito) stands against the opulent, grand entrance to his golden-age Hollywood movie studio and talks about the coming of the future. There's a scene in a Chinese restaurant where someone pulls out a photograph of a mushroom cloud taken at a freshly-nuked Bikini Atoll and declares, solemnly, that it's a picture of the future. There's another scene where waves crash against a pair of rocks in a direct callback to Barton Fink, the Coens' other golden-age Hollywood homage, outside the bachelor-pad mansion of Gene Kelly-type Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum), who happens to be the head of an enclave of Communists (are there ten?) calling themselves "The Future." The Coens at their best describe spiritual blight. They do it in a lot of ways, across multiple genres. Hail, Caesar! opens with Mannix, a real-life figure in Hollywood tangentially-connected to George Reeves's death (murder? Suicide? Who knows?), in a confessional just a day after his last confession and a day before his next. ("Really, it's too much Eddie. You're not that bad.") Mannix--more fictional than actual, it should be noted, in exactly the same way that O Brother, Where Art Thou? is the most faithful adaptation of The Odyssey there ever was despite having almost no relationship to the literal text--indeed doesn't seem all that bad when most of what he confesses is lying to his wife (Alison Pill) about quitting cigarettes. "It's hard, Father." And he cries. The movie is about spiritual blight, and the sin that Mannix is constantly trying to confess is that he doesn't know what he believes. For me, the Coens are at their best when they tackle this spiritual blight through the prism of artists and their attempts to create. Every artist is a Frankenstein. Every work is a monster.