Adrien Brody as Louis Simo
Diane Lane as Toni Mannix
Ben Affleck as George Reeves
Bob Hoskins as Eddie Mannix
Robin Tunney as Leonore Lemmon
Joe Spano as Howard Strickling
Molly Parker as Laurie Simo
Dash Mihok as Sgt. Jack Patterson
Brad William Henke as Russell Taylor
Directed by Allen Coulter
“Hollywoodland” looks great and has a cool retro feel, especially when showing the rise and fall of George Reeves, ably portrayed by Ben Affleck, but far too often, the movie gets bogged down in things that aren’t nearly as interesting.
When actor George Reeves (Ben Affleck) turns up dead due to an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1959, private investigator Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) is brought in to prove that it wasn’t suicide. As Simo investigates, he learns of an affair that Reeves had with Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), the wife of a powerful studio mogul (Bob Hoskins) that might have more to do with his death than the police may want to admit.
Like something inspired by the programming on E! or Court TV, “Hollywoodland” is as much a biodrama about the life and career of George Reeves as it is a straightforward police procedural investigating his mysterious death.
The latter centers around a smart-mouthed private detective named Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), trying to get over a bitter divorce while juggling a number of cases, none of which he takes very seriously. He finds a veritable gravy train in George Reeves’ mother, who doesn’t believe that her son could have killed himself, so Simo convinces her that he can learn the truth. Because he left the local police under controversy, Simo finds himself at odds with his former friends on the force, instead turning to the power of the press to leak false information.
As we follow Simo’s investigation, the film flashes back to George Reeves’ rise as an actor, beginning when he first meets Diane Lane’s Toni Mannix, the wife of a rich and powerful studio executive, who will play a large part in Reeves’ life. Keeping Reeves on a short leash, Mannix never steps in to try to help George’s failing career when his role as Superman makes it hard for him to be taken seriously in other roles.
Reeves’ story has always been a fascinating one, and “Hollywoodland” does a good job delving into his personal life and the behind the scenes of the “Superman” show, making it resonate like Paul Schrader’s underrated “Autofocus,” the Bob Crane bio-drama that showed the dark secrets buried in his past. Not having done any research into Reeves’ life, it’s hard to judge the film on how much of it is truthful and how much is creative license, but director Allen Coulter, who cut his teeth on various HBO shows, does a respectable job recreating the era and making the story believable. The film’s insights into the ’50s Hollywood fame machine make for an interesting contrast to how things have and haven’t changed since then. Still, it’s not nearly as strong as movies like “L.A. Confidential” or “Mulholland Falls” at showing the Hollywood corruption, as the investigation tends to lose focus by going off the beaten track.
Coulter has assembled a fine cast for this dialogue-heavy drama, but few of them seem to be taking many risks by breaking away from their typical roles. The one exception is Ben Affleck, who–and you may want to sit down for this–is easily the best part of the movie with his spot-on portrayal of Reeves. Because of Affleck, the flashback scenes are the best part of the movie, as they ably recreate the making of the old Superman show and the phenomenon that surrounded it, including a tense moment when Reeves faces someone challenging Superman’s invulnerability.
Though Affleck was never typecast like Reeves, he must have felt some sort of kinship due to his own career problems, and it allows him to bring another dimension to the character, which helps the viewer empathize with both of them and revives a lot of faith in Affleck’s credibility as a dramatic actor.
The way the movie cuts back and forth between the two stories makes it obvious how much more screen presence Affleck has compared to Adrien Brody, who seems to be playing Simo almost exactly like his character in “King Kong.” Simo comes across like a bit of an *sshole, so it’s hard to sympathize as he tries to reconnect with his son, who’s become disillusioned after learning of Reeves’ suicide. The movie’s attempt to humanize Simo and give him further motivation to solve the Reeves case ends up shifting the focus too far away from it.
Diane Lane’s performance as an adulterous wife is fairly different from the one she played in “Unfaithful,” but she’s better on screen with Affleck than his scenes with Robin Tunney, who takes things far too over-the-top as the gold-digging girlfriend who tried picking up the pieces after Reeves’ split with Mannix. Bob Hoskins is great as the head of MGM, not much of a stretch for an actor who has played so many memorable thugs in the past, but there are also some nice supporting parts by lesser-known actors like Caroline Dhavernas and Joe Spano.
By the end, the movie has jumped around so much that it’s not clear how it’s possible for Simo to have figured anything out, instead showing a number of different ways that Reeves might have died without committing to any particular one. Ultimately, it just leaves the viewer with more questions than solid answers and ends the movie on a frustrating note.
The Bottom Line:
Fans of George Reeves’ run as “TV’s Superman” should be intrigued by the way “Hollywoodland” shares intimate details of Reeves’ life and tragic death with a convincing performance by Ben Affleck. Unfortunately, the investigation, which tries to solve the mystery behind Reeves’ death, falls short of delivering, because it gets too bogged down in the private life of Brody’s unsympathetic character. Not a bad first movie for Coulter, but it really could have been so much better.