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 whom Reeves was having a relatively open and ... Written by
1959. Los Angeles. Someone's just blown their brains out with a Luger. Or have they? Shady detective gets onto it. The guy was Superman. Or rather, he was George Reeves, who played Superman. Played here by Ben Affleck. Movie studios are at a crossroads in history.
First up, Ben Affleck is good. For someone who maybe wants to get out of comedy (as Reeves wanted to get out of playing the TV Superman), this is a shot for him to be taken seriously. He's surrounded by first rate performances from the likes of Diane Lane, superb as the older-woman seductress. Bob Hoskins, as the studio boss, has a gravitas and conviction that frees him from the more flippant or lowlife characters he has played. Then there's Adrien Brody as a sleazy detective turned honest guy. It's difficult to see how this picture could go wrong. But it does.
With beautiful 50s sets it took me a long time to decide why they somehow failed to convince. There is none of the mysteriousness of L.A. Confidential or the similarly themed Black Dahlia. Hollywoodland has neither a classic noir nor a detective genre feel. The camera-work and editing has a modern, snappy feel to it that is out of synch with the subject matter. It's not clear who is at the centre of the story - are we to focus on Brody or get seriously into the Reeves character? The film interleaves Reeves' life with the detective's investigation and, although there is a common thread between the two men, it is not strong enough to make up for a lack of dramatic tension. Then there's the title: it suggests something far too grand for a microcosm about one actor. Although there are a few broadsides against a corrupt Hollywood system, they lack subtlety and are themes that have been covered more fully many times over.
Diane Lane is mesmerising, first as a gorgeous vamp and then as the frustrated older woman. The recreation of scenes from the first (very low budget) Superman shoots are fascinating and if there had been more of them it might have been a way to flesh out Reeves' character. There is too much emphasis on who is sleeping with who they shouldn't. If the resolution was going to be based on this fine, but it seems the wrong formula for this film. With the exception of Lane, what character development there is comes too late and with insufficient force to justify two hours of meandering.
Hollywoodland wants to take on some big ideas, but brilliant acting is let down by weak direction and execution. At the end of two hours, we are still left asking what was the point. It made me want to put my iPod on and just listen to a fifties crooner such as Julie London - and pretend I was watching something constructed by someone who knew what they were doing.
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