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
Moody Hollywoodland Reveals Seamy Side of the Permissive Film Colony
I was ten years old when I learned the shocking news of the death of George Reeves, the television actor whom I idolized as Superman. I appreciated how "Hollywoodland" made this moment impressionable on the youngster Evan "Scout" Simo, the son of the investigator Louis Simo pursuing leads in the Reeves case. For both me and little Scout, the death of Reeves was an early realization that appearances are not always the same as reality in the world of illusion and Hollywood celebrity.
Under the skillful direction of Allen Coulter, "Hollywoodland" captures that moment in film history when the studio system was in decline and about to give way to a new and more independent period of film-making. Perhaps from his previous credits in directing episodes for HBO's "Six Feet Under" series, Coulter was able to draw upon great location environments for a quintessential sense of Los Angeles. Much credit should go as well to designer Julie Weiss for her colorful costumes (especially men's short-sleeved shirts) that evoked the era of the 1950s in L.A.
The performances were uniformly outstanding. Ben Affleck brings out both the charm and the raw vulnerability of George Reeves, an actor of limited ability, struggling and eventually succumbing to the pressures of fame. Affleck was the spitting image of Reeves, especially in the Clark Kent-style, black-framed "owl" glasses. But the real strength of his performance was in his sensitivity as his character made choices that took him into deeper and deeper emotional waters, culminating in tragedy. In the film's parallel story, Adrien Body was a standout as Louis Simo, the private eye seeking his own fame in trying to uncover the mysterious circumstances and motivation of Reeves' tragic death. The luminous Diane Lane was superb in the role of Toni Mannix, the wife of a powerful studio boss and the lover of Reeves. I found Lane's performance in "Hollywoodland" even better than her Academy-award nominated role in "Unfaithful."
The film conveyed a moody atmosphere that begs comparison with "Chinatown," another film that recreates the essence of old Los Angeles. While not as brilliant stylistically as Roman Polanski's masterpiece, "Hollywoodland" nonetheless was a compelling and indeed riveting drama. Although the mystery of the tragic death of George Reeves was not resolved in this film, it nonetheless provided depth and complexity to the characters, as well as a lurid illustration of the pressures and the accompanying risks involved in struggling to succeed in the film industry.
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