It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Murder!?

by Alan Rapp on September 8, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Hollywoodland
  • IMDB: link

HollywoodlandHollywoodland isn’t quite what you’d expect.  Much more an art house character study than a Hollywood thriller, it provides some genuinely funny and dramatic moments.  Although Hollywood does raise its ugly head in places, for the the most part it’s a well acted and well financed small film that finds most of the right touches to provide an intriguing look at the life, and death, of the man who many saw only as Superman.

George Reeves (Ben Affleck) is dead, and private investigator Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) wants to know why.  Sure he’s in it for the money and fame, but the more he becomes entangled in the web of lies and mysterious secrets, the more he needs to know the truth.  Was it a suicide like the local police want everyone to think?  Or was it murder?

The film follows two lives over the course of its two-hour running time.  The first is the life and career of George Reeves.  The second is the life of Simo which, in many ways, mirrors Reeves own in how it falls apart over the length of the film.

We get Reeves as an early young actor and his first encounter with Toni Maddox (Diane Lane), the wife of MGM boss Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins), which would begin a lengthy love affair lasting years.  We get the glory and sadness that descends from his Superman years on TV.  And we get the later years as Reeves struggled unsuccessfully to make something new out of his remaining time in Hollywood as a producer and director.

The story of Reeves and his struggles is near perfect.  Affleck is charming and witty in the meatiest role he’s had since Chasing Amy.  Lane is, of course, perfect as always.  Robin Tunney and Kathleen Robertson also give fine supporting performances as characters from Reeves’ later years.

The second story works, but not as well as the first.  Structuring the story of Simo around the Reeves’ mystery makes it inevitably pale by comparison.  It does allow for an outsider to view the situation with an unbiased eye, but also creates subplots that aren’t crucial to the main storyline involving Simo’s ex-wife (Molly Parker) and son (Zack Mills) and a tragically obsessive client (Larry Cedar).

My other major complaint involves how the film sets up the three possible scenarios of Reeves’ death, and how the film cuts them, Reeves’ life story, and the slew of Simo’s misadventures, together.  The final scenario we are given is the simplest, and flimsiest given the information in the film, and such an ending takes all the air out of the balloon just as the film should be flying high into the sunset.  It also seems to infer it’s the choice writer Paul Bernbaum and director Allen Coulter preferred.

Even with these issues there’s plenty to enjoy including some clever tongue-in-cheek jokes about Hollywood and the TV industry.  The film however rests on the shoulders of Superman.  Affleck, who’s own career has seen its share of ups and downs, seems to find just the right notes in his performance giving the man both a nobility and vulnerability, and making him more than just a tired old cliche.

This is a well made art film that just might fool people into seeing better cinema than they are used to in the cinema-plex.  I have problems with how the film is structured and edited, and I believe one story far outshines the other.  Still, the film is well made, contains vibrant and surprisingly good performances, and is offbeat and interesting enough to keep you both amused and guessing as to what will come next.  It’s not perfect, but you could do far worse than to give Hollywoodland a careful look.

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