Hollywoodland Review

Sunday, October 08, 2006

For many, Superman and Hollywood both represent truth, justice and the American way. However both have proven themselves to be fallible over the years. Superman is nothing more than a fictional ideal that is just as fake as the Hollywood lifestyle commonly portrayed in the media.

Allen Coulter exposes both of these phenomena for what they are in his latest film, "Hollywoodland." The film opens with the investigation of George Reeves' (Ben Affleck) unexpected suicide. Reeves, best known for his role as television's Superman in the 1950s, also had a tumultuous personal life that led some to speculate that his murder was the result of foul play. Private investigator Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) is hired by Reeves' mother to re-examine the case.

The movie alternates between Simo's ongoing investigation and flashbacks of Reeves. The parallel plots are edited in such a way that they switch from one to the other whenever information is revealed. This type of flow keeps the audience engaged and builds momentum toward the film's conclusion.

The Reeves plot is slightly more interesting, with its portrayal of the actor's problematic career. Despite his success as Superman, Reeves could never separate himself from the character he played. One scene has Reeves face to face with an actor's worst nightmare - a fan that can't separate fiction from reality. In this case it is a kid holding a loaded gun, curious to see if the bullets will harmlessly bounce of Reeves like they do on television.

Unfortunately, Simo's side of the plot falters toward the end. Simo comes up with three possible scenarios. Reeves was either shot by himself, his fiancée or a hit man hired by MGM Vice President, Eddie Mannix. All three scenarios have some credibility, but none are conclusively stated as the true cause of Reeves' death. "Hollywoodland" also fails to add any new details to the half-century old mystery. There is nothing wrong with an ambiguous ending, but considering how the movie was marketed to question the credibility Reeves' suicide, some type of closure should be expected.

Instead, "Hollywoodland" is more a commentary on the seedy politics of the film industry than a mystery film. Simo's storyline reveals corruption in the Los Angeles Police Dept., sensationalist reporting in the newspapers and movie studios with ties to the mob. The Reeves flashbacks tell the mostly true Hollywood story of the actor's Catch-22 struggle against both obscurity and fame.

However, the plot isn't what makes "Hollywoodland" worth seeing. Both the cast and aesthetics go a long way to immerse the audience in the film's atmosphere. Costumes and set locations definitely have the 1950s Los Angeles feel to them. Seasoned actors like Diane Lane and Bob Hoskins provide great character performances alongside Brody and Affleck. The character relationships drive the film far more than action sequences or the aforementioned anticlimactic murder mystery.

Surprisingly, Affleck is the one that steals the scenes. Affleck may have been the bomb in "Phantoms," but he delivers one of his best performances to date. Maybe it is because the two actors share some common elements in their careers, but Affleck is able to effectively channel Reeves' charm and progressive fatalism.

Much like the real Superman and the real Hollywood, "Hollywoodland" has its flaws, and it probably is not the best movie out right now. But, with its strong acting and thought-provoking moments, it does signal the start of this year's Oscar season, and that's pretty powerful.


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