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The Egalitarian

In Retrospect: A Question of Values: Hail, Caesar! (2016)

C.D. Calderon, Staff Writer

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Somewhere around or near the mid-point of this film, a Country/Western star (played by Alden Ehrenreich) finds himself having to fill in as a leading man in an empty role for a sophisticated, high society movie. It’s the kind of film made for “serious” types. In other words it’s the last place you’d want to drag a good ol’ boy, slap a tux on him, and expect him to behave like he’s one of New York’s upper crust. Still, that’s the situation this untried leading man finds himself in (his name is Hobie Doyle, so you know he’s more a salt of the earth type). Give him a horse to ride, and he proves to be an unstoppable power-house. Force him to make his way through an elegant ballroom, and his movements become clumsy and ill-fitting.

The rest of the scene plays out as the film’s director, Laurence Laurence (pronounced Laur-rentz and played with impeccable taste by Ralph Fiennes), tries to train the young neophyte in how to pronounce “Would that it t’were so simple”. The scene goes on like this with both men trying to get the right pronunciation, and slowly driving each other round the bend.

It’s the kind of scene that would have been the norm back in the 1950s, the era in which this story is set, and it is now considered too much of a risk because it relies less on action, and more on character and dialogue. It’s also something about which the filmmaker’s are unapologetic. It goes without saying that this is a Cohen Bros. movie.

Hail, Caesar tells of a day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), an employee of the Hollywood system at Capitol Studios. Eddie is what’s known as a “Fixer”, a guy whose job is to keep all of Tinsletown’s beautiful people out of the tabloids and possible columns. Some Busby-Berkeley starlet has got herself pregnant? Eddie’s there to find a way for her to “adopt” her own child. The new prestige picture doesn’t have a leading man and you can’t get a hold of Clarke Gable? No problem, Eddie will just press Hobie Doyle into the role on short notice. In other words, Mannix has chosen perhaps the most grueling and thankless job to have on the lot. He’s in charge of the studio’s image, the one it has to sell to all the movie-goers of the world. Eddie must do all he can, 24/7, to make sure the Dream Factory stays that way.

Guys like Eddie never really have a “normal day”. The best he can hope for is just another screwed up day at the office. However this particular day is abnormal even by Eddie’s standards. To start with, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the star of ‘Hail, Caesar!’ Capitol’s latest epic, has been kidnapped. He has no clues, no lead, and the ransom message says just that the kidnappers are from “The Future”. In addition, Lockheed Airlines is making a very juicy employment offer that Eddie isn’t sure he should refuse. The pay would be a lot more, that’ for sure. Over the course of a day and a morning, we follow Eddie Mannix through his search for the missing Whitlock, and for any reason for why he sticks around the movie industry at all.

That’s the plot, and it’s typical of a Cohen flick. It’s very hard to gauge these particular artists. The Bros. have…

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In Retrospect: A Question of Values: Hail, Caesar! (2016)