When a Las Vegas performer-turned-snitch named Buddy Israel decides to turn state's evidence and testify against the mob, it seems that a whole lot of people would like to make sure he's no longer breathing.
Struggling private investigator Louis Simo treats his work more as a means to make a living than a want to do right by what few clients he has. Through connections with the investigation firm for which he used to work, Simo is hired by Helen Bessolo to investigate the death of her son, actor George Reeves. Reeves was best known for his title role in Adventures of Superman (1952), a role which he always despised, in part since it typecast him as a "cartoon", despite it bringing him a certain fame. His June 16, 1959 death by a single gunshot wound while in his bedroom in his Los Angeles home was ruled a suicide by the police, the death which occurred when the house was filled with people. Reeves' story is told in part in flashback as Simo, who is trying to make a name for himself with this case, talks to or tries to talk to some of the players involved, most specifically the wife of MGM General Manager E.J. Mannix, Toni Mannix, with who Reeves was having a relatively open and ... Written by
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Excellent drama, compelling, and about as truthful as drama can be.
As someone who has spent a number of years preparing the definitive biography of actor George Reeves, I approached this film with great trepidation. I had previously turned down several offers for the film rights to my own book because I felt it unlikely that those projects would result in a film truthful to the essence of the man I had come to know so well. All I can say is that the makers of "Hollywoodland" came as close as is humanly possible in the real world of movie-making to achieving exactly what I would have hoped for -- an examination of George Reeves's life and death that is true to the times he lived in, true to the kind of man I found him to be, and as true as possible to the most likely scenarios that have been projected to explain his death. While this is not a biography nor a documentary, and while adhering to each and every fact of Reeves's life would have resulted in a film exactly as long as his life, the artists here have done a powerful and affecting job of telling Reeves's story, and have framed it in a fictional setting that illuminates rather than obscures the truth.
In any event, in any life, there is what happened and then there is the truth, and the two may not always equally serve our understanding of the event or life in question. It is true that "Hollywoodland" takes occasional liberties with specific facts, in no less way than Shakespeare took liberties with the real life facts of Hamlet or Julius Caesar. But as Alfred Hitchcock said, drama is life with the dull bits left out. What matters is not whether a costume is the right shade of blue or whether there's really a gas station at the intersection of Sunset and Benedict Canyon. What matters is whether the essence of a true story has been faithfully told. And "Hollywoodland" does a superb job of portraying that essence, who George Reeves was, what his world was like, and what impact he had on those who knew him and those who only knew of him. Allen Coulter, the director, has done a splendid job capturing the era and has paid enormous attention both to period detail and to the details of the lives of the real-life characters. Only Reeves's fans (and not even many of them) will notice the pinkie ring on Ben Affleck's finger or the widow's peak in his hairline or the exotic Alvis auto he owns, yet these are all completely authentic to the actual Reeves. More importantly, Coulter has done an exemplary job of making Reeves into a human being, one whose dreams we ache for almost as much as he does in the story.
Adrien Brody, as the fictional detective whose story provides the audience a window into Reeves's life, is solid and manages to bring a little charisma to the comparative low-life he plays. Diane Lane is superb as Reeves's lover, the sexually hungry but aging Toni Mannix. And Ben Affleck does certainly his best dramatic work ever as George Reeves. In makeup, and with his own matching cleft chin, Affleck sometimes looks astonishing like the real Reeves. But more importantly, he captures the haunted quality of the actor on a treadmill to oblivion, as well as the immense charm for which the real Reeves is widely remembered in Hollywood. Although the script does not give any of the actors the kind of deeply meaty scenes that win Oscars, some of the hardest work to do is for an actor to excel in scenes that don't require fireworks. Affleck in particular does so in this film, and I think it does him credit. He is reported to have researched the role intensely, and it shows. The performances of Larry Cedar, Bob Hoskins, and Lois Smith also stand out especially distinctively.
The cinematography is stunning, with the frequent flashbacks clearly distinguishable from the "present day" scenes without the distinction being glaring or even obvious. And the musical score is elegant and very evocative of the time.
It is perhaps inevitable that die-hard Superman fans, for whom George Reeves is not so much a human being as he is a sort of superhero himself, will find things to carp and cavil about in this film. As a researcher with over thirty years of in-depth study of Reeves's life, I can split hairs over details pretty easily myself. And I suspect, too, that some of the complaints will be about the depiction of things that are actually true, but which don't show Reeves in a worshipful light. All I can say is that I have spent my adult life studying, admiring, and trying to understand the man whose story this film tells, and I think George Reeves would be touched and proud of the care these filmmakers have taken. I highly recommend "Hollywoodland."
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