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Who better to poke fun at Hollywood than the Cohen brothers? They set their new comedy in Hollywood’s Golden Age, in the early 1950s, a period for the motion picture industry when its glamorous façade was beginning to show visible cracks. The major studios had recently been forced to divest themselves of their theaters and were facing the sudden growth of a new rival: television. They were also beset by changes in the post-World War II political and social landscape, including the hysteria of the Red Scare and the Cold War.
Hollywood responded to these threats, real and imagined, by providing audiences with big, splashy escapist entertainments: wide-screen Biblical epics featuring casts of thousands, bold Technicolor movie musicals and Busby Berkeley-style aquatic spectaculars, as well as a supply of Westerns and sophisticated drawing-room dramas.
No cost was too great to maintain the illusion of glamour. “Today, we’re so used to knowing every little thing about actors and celebrities and digging into the deep dark truths of their lives,” says Scarlett Johansson, who plays DeeAnna Moran, an aquatic film star loosely patterned on Esther Williams. “Back then, the public wanted to believe that the stars were in fact as otherworldly and ideal as they were being projected. The studios did more to protect their ‘trophies’ back in that system. The stars were like property, under contract forever and could be loaned out at any time. There were good things about that system and bad. On the one hand, they were taken care of, and on the other, it could be rather suffocating.”
In Hail, Caesar! things get crazy when the world’s biggest star (George Clooney) vanishes and his captors demand an enormous ransom for his safe return, and it will take the power of Hollywood’s biggest names to solve the mystery of his disappearance
Enter Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin): his job as a studio fixer begins before dawn, as he arrives just ahead of the police to keep one of Capitol Pictures’ prized starlets from being arrested on a morals charge. His work is never dull, and it’s around the clock. Each film on the studio’s slate comes complete with its own headache, and Mannix is tasked with finding a solution to each of them.
While he rushes from one star’s-self-induced emergency to another, not only must Mannix figure out a press-friendly way for swimming sensation DeeAnna Moran (Johansson) to work her way out of a personal jam, he must make sense out of the latest suspicious behaviour of song-and-dance superstar Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum).
As if these giant-ego dramas weren’t enough with which to start the day, Mannix has been confronted with the biggest crisis of his career: one of the studio’s biggest moneymakers, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), has been kidnapped right in the middle of production of his latest swords-and-sandals epic, Hail, Caesar!, and a mysterious group that calls itself “The Future” has claimed responsibility.
Either the studio forks over $100,000, or they can say goodbye to their bread and butter. Zipping from one problem to the next, Mannix must keep the lid on all of them, all the while horse-trading information to keep his talents’ names out of the gossip columns written by a pair of rival siblings, Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton).
Hail, Caesar! opens February 5 and stars, Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum