George Clooney (The Ides of March)
Josh Brolin (Jonah Hex)
Alden Ehrenreich (Beautiful Creatures)
Ralph Fiennes (Red Dragon)
Scarlett Johansson (Lucy)
Frances McDormand (Fargo)
Tilda Swinton (Doctor Strange)
Channing Tatum (21 Jump Street)
Alison Pill (Scott PIlgrim vs The World)
Emily Beecham (Bon Voyage)
Heather Goldenhersh (The Class)
Wayne Knight (3rd Rock From The Sun)
Jonah Hill (Cyrus)
Christopher Lambert (Highlander)
Fred Melamed (The Dictator)
Patrick Fischler (Old School)
David Krumholtz (Mom)
Fisher Stevens (Hackers)
Clancy Brown (Sleepy Hollow0
Robert Pciardo (Stargate: Atlantis)
Natasha Bassett (Britney Ever AFter)
Dolph Lundgren (Arrow)
Robert Trebor (Hercules: TLJ)
Michael Gambon (Harry Potter)
In 1951, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is the head of physical production at Capitol Pictures and also works as a “fixer” to keep the scandalous behavior of its stars out of the press. He often has to fend off inquiries from Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both played by Tilda Swinton), twin sisters and rival gossip columnists. The Lockheed Corporation has been courting him with an offer of a high-level executive position, but he is unsure about taking it. When unmarried synchronised swimming actress DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) becomes pregnant, Mannix arranges for her to put the baby in foster care, and then adopt it without revealing herself as the mother. The studio’s major production is Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ, an epic set in ancient Roman times and starring Baird Whitlock (George Clooney). During a shot, Whitlock drinks from a goblet of wine that was drugged by an extra (Wayne Knight); he passes out while rehearsing lines by himself behind the soundstage and is abducted. A ransom note soon arrives, written by a group calling itself “The Future,” demanding $100,000. Mannix arranges to get the money from the studio’s Accounting Department, as “petty cash.”
Whitlock awakens in a beach house and finds his way into a meeting of The Future, a Communist cell. The members, who introduce themselves as mostly writers in the motion picture industry, explain their doctrine to him and begin to win him over to their cause. At the same time, Thora threatens Mannix by stating she will release an article about a scandal involving the earlier film On Wings As Eagles, which gave Whitlock his break-out role. Mannix successfully negotiates for her to postpone the story by a day in exchange for information about the romantic life of singing Western film star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich). Doyle is cast in a period drama helmed by posh director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) in an attempt by the studio to broaden his appeal. After Doyle’s initial performance is hopelessly incompetent, Laurentz visits Mannix and asks him to remove Doyle from the project so that Laurentz can preserve his artistic vision for the film. Mannix informs Laurentz that Doyle’s role is non-negotiable and convinces him to coach the young actor to give a better performance. Doyle comes to Mannix’s office and admits that he feels the part is too far outside his comfort zone. Mannix reassures him that he has the needed acting abilities and tells him about Whitlock’s kidnapping.
That evening, Doyle attends the premiere of one of his own Westerns with starlet Carlotta Valdez (Verónica Osorio), per instructions from Mannix. Doyle is initially disappointed that his lone singing scene is depicted in a comedic manner, rather than as heartfelt as he intended. However, after seeing the audience react positively to the scene, Doyle warms to it himself. Doyle and Valdez visit a nightclub, where the pair are genuinely developing chemistry until they are interrupted by both Thacker sisters, each looking to get a scoop on their relationship. Doyle suddenly spots the briefcase containing the ransom money, recognizing it because he had lent Mannix his belt to keep it closed. It is being carried by Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum), the star of a sailor musical comedy depicted earlier in an elaborate dancing scene. Mannix and Moran meet with a surety agent, Joseph Silverman (Jonah Hill), an average man whom the studio has used to solve public problems; he has a solid reputation as completely dependable, reliable, and discreet. He will agree to provide foster care for Moran’s child, preserving her image. Moran, who expressed frustration with her previous two marriages with a mobster and a Hollywood type, finds herself strongly attracted to Silverman.
Doyle follows Gurney to the beach house in Malibu but, after walking in the front door, finds only Whitlock inside. The rest of The Future’s members have rowed a boat containing Gurney offshore so that he can rendezvous with a Soviet submarine and defect to Russia. The members of The Future give him the money for the Communist cause. As Gurney boards the submarine, his dog jumps into his arms, causing him to drop the briefcase, which sinks into the ocean. Doyle takes Whitlock back to the studio just before the police arrive at the beach house to arrest the group, after Mannix’s investigation led him to the house. Whitlock tries to explain his new-found Communist leanings to Mannix, who cuts him off sharply, slapping his face numerous times, and orders him to finish his role in Hail, Caesar!; the actor is chastened, but encouraged by a final directive from Mannix to be a movie star.
Mannix is notified the next morning that Moran married Silverman who will adopt the child with her. Mannix announces he has decided to reject the Lockheed offer and continue working at Capitol. Thora then meets with Mannix and informs him that the column she plans to publish about On Wings As Eagles will reveal that Whitlock got his major role in the film by having sex with Laurentz. However, Mannix has deduced that Gurney is her source for the piece and persuades her to not run the story since Gurney is a Communist who has defected—which would cause her own reputation to suffer by association. Mannix leaves the worried-looking Thora, secure in his station in life.I think that you need to be something of a film buff to really enjoy this Coen Brothers offering, which is an affectionate homage to the history of Hollywood. There are references to the influence of McCarthyism and nods to many genres, from the ‘B’ Western to the biblically based epic. Most of the comedy is gentle and occasionally subtle, not to say understated. It is both easily worth 5 stars and thoroughly recommended.