Smarter people than I have written lots of very smart reviews and analyses of this latest Coen brothers movie, so I will not presume to contribute to the larger conversation. But what struck me most about the picture, which is an affectionate tribute to old Hollywood, is its deep and abiding — and utterly unironic — appreciation for craft and craftsmen.
There is a scene where the singing cowboy star has gone to pick up his date for the evening, a sizzling Carmen Miranda type he has been fixed up with by the studio in an attempt to forge a reputation as a sophisticate. And while he waits for her, he gets out his rope and starts doing Will Rogers style tricks with it. Effortlessly. And the girl appears and is duly impressed, and he asks her if it’s hard to dance with bananas on her head. And she explains that no, it isn’t, just a little hip and neck action (but it’s a much better written line), and the point is made. This incongruous pairing is not so incongruous. These are craftsmen, and they have practiced and mastered their craft.
The movie is filled with hard-working, talented people, each contributing their best efforts to something larger — and they hope better — than themselves. What that something is, and whether it is worth it, I leave to the wiser heads to battle out. For my part, I was content to be taken to a world where strange, perhaps useless, but enchanting talents are appreciated and given full attention and encouragement. And where gung-ho all-American ingenuity triumphs, as it does in every one of protagonist studio fixer Eddie Mannix’s solutions to the wildly diverse and seemingly intractable problems he is thrown during the course of his day.
Hail, Caesar! is a Coen brothers picture, and there is much to think on and contemplate — and much to feel uneasy about. But the movie’s satire, and any post-viewing reflective cynicism, does not extend to the celebration of the individual doing what he or she does best, doing it well and with pride and — yes — integrity.