The main character in Hail, Caesar!, Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin), is the only one who’s named for a real-life Hollywood figure: a notorious “fixer” who bullied movie stars into behaving themselves and kept their dirty secrets out of the press. Throughout the film, the heavily fictionalized Mannix runs into crisis after crisis and ponders whether he should quit the movie business all together. Despite his job title, he doesn’t actually fix many problems—most of them end up being resolved with goofy serendipity in one way or another.
DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), an actress pregnant out of wedlock, is told to secretly give her baby to a studio agent (Jonah Hill) so that she can adopt it back from him in what seems a charitable move; instead, the two fall in love. Mannix is pestered by twin gossip columnists (both Tilda Swinton) who have a story of a star’s sexual shenanigans, but it falls apart when the source is revealed to be a communist. Mannix’s wife even asks him to call his son’s baseball coach because he doesn’t want to play shortstop; later he learns his son took the field without a fuss. “Took care of itself,” Mannix murmurs with satisfaction.
But there’s one issue he tackles decisively. Near the end of the film, the leading man Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), having been kidnapped by communists for a day, starts ranting about the evils of capitalism and the studio’s complicity in deceiving the working man. Mannix slaps him and tells him to get back to work: “The picture has worth, and you have worth if you serve the picture, and you’re never gonna forget that again.” It’s an ironic note of optimism from the Coens, but optimism nonetheless—a wry celebration of the movie system they’ve become a part of, and one that stands in fascinating contrast to their earlier, surreal Hollywood satire, Barton Fink.