Review by Mark Walters


People have long speculated on the truth behind the infamous death of actor George Reeves.  The world came to know him as Superman, and he was idolized by kids worldwide.  In June of 1959, Reeves died in his home during a get together.  Though people were there to hear the gunshot, no one actually saw it happen.  This opened up some serious speculation that his death might not have necessarily been a suicide.  The movie HOLLYWOODLAND explores the investigation of his death, and the events that led up to it.

The film introduces us to Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), a struggling private detective who at one time was a respected authority figure.  He now spends his days tracking cheating wives, and barely making ends meet.  When George Reeves (Ben Affleck) dies, the effect is felt everywhere, including Simo's son, who now lives with his divorced wife.  After looking around for a big case, an old colleague drops the Reeves info into Simo's lap, letting him know there's more to it than meets the eye.  Louis sees this as a big opportunity, and milks it every way possible, including getting his own face and anem plastered in the papers.  While the police feel it's an open and shut case, other parties involved hint that's not entirely true.  So Louis begins digging, and finds quite a bit in George's background.  Throughout the movie we're peppered with several flashback scenes, showing how Reeves established his name in the business, and his inevitable hiring as the Man of Steel.  We learn that he had a lengthy affair with the sultry Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), wife of ruthless studio big wig Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins).  We also see that he eventually meets a younger and more devious dame named Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney), who is clearly trying to ride George's success.  When Reeves dies, Leonore (who was present that night) seems cold and uncooperative, while Toni simply shuts down emotionally, and is locked away from everyone by her husband.  As Simo does his best to get the facts, he in turn ruffles some feathers behind the scenes, and may be in some serious danger as a result.

This film is like a hybrid of L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and AUTO FOCUS.  The style, handled nicely by director Allen Coulter (no, not Alan Kalter, the announcer from David Letterman's show), is about as appropriate and authentic as one could get.  From the period Hollywood settings, to the clothing worn by every character, it never feels like the went cheap or moved to quickly in their production.  Adrien Brody is pretty solid as Louis Simo, a rather sleazy detective who despite his sometimes questionable methods ultimately feels sincere.  In the hands of the wrong actor this role could've fallen really flat.  But it seems everyone is more interested in Ben Affleck as George Reeves.  I can say he didn't suck, but there are more than a few occasions where it feels like he trying just a little to hard to sell the persona.  In the scenes where Ben is playing Reeves on the SUPERMAN television show, he's about as perfect as you could want, and there's even a few moral dilemma sequences in which he must deal with kids perception of him.  I'd heard that many other actors were attached to that role at some point or another, including Hugh Jackman and Thomas Jane.  While I don't think Affleck was awful by any means, I'm not sure if I bought him 100% in the part.  Some of the supporting roles are worthy of note.  Diane Lane is great as always, this time playing an attractive yet older woman, who falls accidentally in love with Reeves during a party, and eventually gets him the break he so desperately needs.  Their love is one we know can't last forever, and that makes things interesting.  Robin Tunney is also really effective as the manipulative harpy who is only intrerested in Reeves for his celebrity status.  I've seen Tunney before in many roles I found to be pretty forgettable.  Here she is one of the most effective parts of the film.  Then there's Bob Hoskins, who is really good when he's bad.  See THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY for a prime example.  His persona is pretty subdued, in fact he never says much at all, but he's definitely not the kind of man you want to cross.

It could be said this is one of those movies that asks a lot more questions than it answers.  But then again no one really knows definitively what actually happened to George Reeves, so I respect their decision to leave things a bit ambiguous.  The major downside here comes from the films pacing.  It's rather slow-moving, and this may actually be a result of the decision to tell the story in a non-linear fashion.  It opens with the death, and we have to wade through a series of flashback in order to understand everyone's role in George's life.  I might have enjoyed it more as a straightforward story, beginning with Reeves getting the Superman role, leading into the death, and eventually dealing with the investigation.  This might have helped the flow of the film.  Instead it comes across as a little disjointed.  I'm not sure if this was the decision of the director or the writer Paul Bernbaum, but it's somewhat of a weak point with the film.  But the movie isn't a total loss.  The scenes depicting Reeves filming his Superman role do an appropriate job of showing all the ups and downs that came with it.  It's enough to make you think twice about any actor who gets typecast in an iconic character persona.  Was George's life in Hollywood as seedy as the film portrays?  Probably.  I like that the movie shows Hollywood for what it really is... or was then.  It may not be the most uplifting biopic you'll see, but it will make you think.

BIGFANBOY.com score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being best, I give HOLLYWOODLAND a 6.

Visit the Focus Features HOLLYWOODLAND movie website by clicking here.

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