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Hollywoodland Tells a Fallen Superhero's Hopeless Tale

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • 2006 9 Sep
  • COMMENTS
<i>Hollywoodland</i> Tells a Fallen Superhero's Hopeless Tale

DVD Release Date:  February 6, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  September 8, 2006
Rating:  R (for language, some violence and sexual content)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  126 min.
Director:  Allen Coulter
Actors:  Ben Affleck, Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney, Lois Smith

Steeped in film noir atmospherics, and with star power to burn, Hollywoodland is about the man in "man of steel," the guy who puts on the cape but can't fly. It's about an actor, not a character - a look at the seamy side of the glamorous stars and the studio executives who could make or break them. It's a seedy story of the lives of the rich and famous.

Superman Returns revived the superhero's franchise this past summer, but this fall's Hollywoodland gives us a much more serious side to the Superman story. Unfortunately, this tale of the rise and fall of actor George Reeves - cast as TV's Superman, but subsequently unable to shake free from the audience's association of him with that role - delivers the same mixed results as Bryan Singer's over-hyped vision of the superhero.

The film opens with the death of Reeves (Ben Affleck) from a gunshot wound. "Superman's suicide" would prove to be a rude awakening for the nation's youth, forced to reconcile their hopeful idealism with grim reality. But for private investigator Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), it's an opportunity. Working a tip from a friendly law-enforcement official, Simo plants stories in the press suggesting that Reeves' death may have been a homicide, then struggles to piece together a coherent theory of Reeves' demise before the skeptical press corps catches on to Simo's questionable motives.

Enlisting Reeves' mother (Lois Smith) to reopen the case on Reeves' death, Simo looks to the other women in Reeves' life, including a studio executive's wife (Diane Lane) and Reeves' fiancée (Robin Tunney), as possible suspects in his death. The pressure of his investigation gives Simo a temporary focus and purpose that distracts from his failed marriage and growing distance from his son, but the more Simo learns about Reeves, the more he discovers parallels between his own life and that of the Hollywood star.

Director Allen Coulter brings a visual elegance to the production, but the story, leaning heavily on Simo's character, isn't pretty. Reeves' most famous character notwithstanding, there's little that's "super" on display here. It's vanity, lust and covetousness all wrapped up in a dreary package. No one learns anything from their personal failures or acknowledges the pain they cause others. Simo justifies his behavior as a way to "make a buck" - a working man's credo that might carry more weight were his actions reputable or his income more devoted to his alienated wife and child.

But Hollywoodland is not a cautionary tale, and it certainly isn't inspirational. At times, it's a conspiracy film, but even in this, it ultimately robs viewers of any speculative theories about Reeves' death. We're left with a sad portrait of personal and professional failure.

The acting, with one crucial exception, is outstanding. The cast full of Oscar nominees includes Brody, who inhabits his role as private investigator, and Lane, who is by turns sexy, vulnerable, scorned and submissive. But Affleck's performance as Reeves anchors the film, and it's not the slam-dunk needed to make viewers forget a string of performances that squandered any good will the actor earned with his strong performance in 2002's Changing Lanes. This is Affleck's movie, and it proves to be too much for him to carry. He has baggage of his own to overcome - remember the slings and arrows that greeted the instantly infamous flop, Gigli? - but Affleck's career has been charmed in a way that Reeves' never was. Indeed, Affleck's ability to land plum roles is more mysterious than anything in "Hollywoodland."

So, why was this movie made? It turns out that the lives of the rich and famous several decades ago were - just as they are today - filled with moral compromise, and that once you get past the glamorous surface of Hollywood, there's an ugly underside. If that surprises you, then Hollywoodland may be just the ticket. For everyone else, there's little to take away from this film. Like so much that has emerged from Tinseltown over the years, it's largely distasteful and quickly forgettable.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  Lord's name taken in vain; sexual banter and double entendres; multiple profanities
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Cigar smoking; drinking before breakfast and at other times; smoking in front of children
  • Theft/Bribery:  A private investigator steals a newspaper and bribes a medical worker in order to get a close-up look at Reeves' corpse
  • Sex/Nudity:  Sound of sex in a hotel room; a married woman has an affair with Reeves; private investigator carries on an affair; lovers are shown in bed; simulated sex on a Hollywood set; a man explains a scar on his chest; photo of a sexual act; Reeves disrobes; implied oral sex; a graphic sex scene
  • Violence:  A young boy with a loaded gun asks if he can shoot someone; a man is brutally beaten, lashed with chains; a man pulls a gun on an ex-partner
  • Suicide:  Reeves' official cause of death was ruled as suicide, but the film posits other explanations