Hail Casar! The Most Catholic Movie Ever Made?
By Gail Deibler Finke
It’s almost impossible to review Hail Casar! the latest film from the Coen Brothers, because nearly everything in it connects to everything else, and to write about one part is to hint at all the rest.
A romp set in the Golden Age of Hollywood, Hail Caesar! is in many ways an homage to the escapist movies of the 40s and 50s — but that’s not what it’s about. (If you love old movies, though, you’re going to love the spoofs in this one).
As in most Coen Brothers films, the characters have little idea of what is going on around them, and the point of the story isn’t revealed until the movie’s end. Is it about a kidnapped movie star? A plot against Hollywood? A plot against America? The temptation of a good man? Or is it about salvation?
It’s about all those things and more, rolled up into a triple dose of Coen Brothers. If you don’t like their take on things, you sure won’t like this. But if you do, it’s a feast.
Josh Brolin stars as Eddie Mannix, a Hollywood executive whose work consist of making the zany mix of actors and directors happy and keeping them on schedule. He’s also a devout Catholic who confesses every day, lives in a little bungalow with his wife and children (no mansions for this exec) and is being wooed by Lockheed to work on bombs.
“Armageddon,” he says, when he’s shown a photo of a hydrogen bomb explosion. But is it okay to work for the devil if the hours are better?
And his hours are bad. Up early, out late, removing starlets from “French postcard” photo shoots, looking into ransoms. The movie industry, it’s hinted, is on its last legs. Does he have a future at Capitol Pictures? It there a future in capitalism itself?
Meanwhile he has to get religious leaders to give the okay to a blockbuster Biblical movie, Hail Caesar! A Tale of the Christ. Then the film’s star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney– who wears nothing but Roman armour throughout the film), goes missing in the middle of production. Mannix has to find him, while also taking care of the wayward star of water ballet movies, putting off twin reporters (one a gossip writer and one a news writer — both of whom cover the same stories) and placating high-class movie director Laurence Lorenz. The latter is suddenly saddled with a cowboy star who can’t act but who was sent by the studio boss himself to star in a Lorenz’s latest “drawing room picture.”
Or is that what he was sent for?
There are stories within stories in this film, in which some characters work out their salvation in fear and trembling, and others don’t even know they have been saved. To my knowledge, the Coen Brothers are not Catholic, but this is a Catholic movie through and through, a joyful, crazy mess that could be used as an illustration of what it means to be Catholic and belong to a Church where sinners and saints are all mixed together, sometimes in the same person, looking for salvation where they expect it to be and missing it in each other. But always, always worth saving.
Gail Deibler Finke is Senior Editor of The Catholic Beat.
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