Director: Allen Coulter

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Hollywoodland Adrian Brody plays Louis Simo, a fictional private investigator in Hollywoodland (2006), investigating the real-life mystery of the death of George "Superman" Reeves. The film presents the mystery credibly, & captures wonderfully the unwholesome seediness of Hollywood in the 1950s.

Ben Affleck plays George Reeves. I've never before found Afleck an enjoyable actor. In interviews Ben seems a really decent chap, a regular Joe in love with his home town of Boston & his home team & a completely sincere guy. But in movie roles I've found him creepy when he's supposed to be heroic, milquetoast when he's supposed to be tough, & for the most part a bland generic actor.

But as George Reeves he does a stupendous job. He plays a man of enormous personal charm but only a modicum of talent, who wishes he were a great movie star & is unhappy with his actual success as a television actor whose portrayal of Superman has made him beloved of all America's children, bar none.

There's a scene with Affleck as Reeves in character as Clark Kent, mugging & smiling at the camera, & he's so gawdamn charming & sweet, it's like Affleck channeled the actual actor, or found something in his own career & personality that he could use to strongly identify with the historical figure.

HollywoodlandBy the end of the film we've been on a rollercoast ride with George's successes, failures, experiences, & emotions.

At middle age he's the "kept boy" of mobster's wife Toni Mannix (Diane Lane). His agent adores him but after Superman, George is so identified with one role that the best gig he can get is a wrestling match -- that is, if he'll wear the cape.

Reeves comes off as really a lovely decent fellow given the seedy world in which he moves & thrives socially. But he has fooled himself into thinking he could've been a great actor if an overly successful television stint hadn't ruined his career.

The prevailing theory that he committed suicide because feeling like a failure may be true. But he was not a failure, & would've had a bigger & bigger career behind the camera had he lived, a fact that was known to be threatening to his sugar momma. Her mobster husband (Bob Hoskins) was never bothered by her keeping George as her boy-toy, though he was otherwise highly protective of her, so one of the theories is that the mobster producer could've had George put down for breaking Toni's heart.

There is sufficient mystery about the actual details of his death to forever leave open the possibility, even if not the likelihood, of his having been murdered. No doubt modern forensics wouldn't've left so many issues in question, but virtually everything the film presents about Reeves' life & death is dead-on accurate. In fact the specifics of the case are stranger & more open to query than the film shows, so there is no exaggeration here.

I'm surprised to hear myself say it, but when Ben Affleck is on screen as Reeves, the film is alive with beauty & feeling. The bright heroic hopefulness of his Superman persona & Reeves' unquestionable charmingness, vs the infantilism of his life as a kept man, makes the film simultaneously dark & light, taking neo-noir to splendid heights of modern artistry.

But when the made-up detective is on screen, the film deflates into movie cliches. The "real" content of the film is original, engaging, suspenseful stuff. But the tale of the gumshoe is tiresomely familiar & empty-headed.

And unfortunately it's more than half about the detective, which pretty much guarantees this is not a film of lasting consequence, but merely the best thing of its season.

I've always liked Adrian Brody who is capable of fine acting. So it feels weird to have just adored Affleck's performance & disliked Brody's. Affleck had the more compelling role to play. Brody was sabotaged by the fact that the screenplay did wonders with the "real" material but fell into pulp fiction artifice for the private eye, creating more dissonance than drama.

Not that the made-up detective was a bad idea. It permitted a point of view that could test all the possibilities of what really happened to Reeves. But the creative crew over-reacted to their desire not to produce a predictable biopic. They hoped for Chinatown not The Amy Fisher Story but failed to realize it was in Reeves' authentic biography, not in Mickey Spillane, that Chinatown might have been discovered.

And to close with one more unexpected bit of praise for Ben Affleck, that last look he gives the camera horrified me. We've come by the end to love this guy called George Reeves, as did all America when he played Superman. But we've seen into the dark corners of his inability to embrace what triumphs he had.

And that look of misery & longing & uncertainty is the most alarming gaze any film has captured since Harvey Keitel did it in Fingers or Prince Randian in Todd Browning's Freaks, looking straight out at the viewing public with quiet ferocity.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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