2006Director: Allen Coulter
Cast: Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck
hen George Reeves, the first man ever to don the Superman suit, was found dead in his bedroom on June 16, 1959, a bullet wound in his skull, it was an unfortunate end to a tumultuous tale of Hollywood reality. It would be untrue to say no one saw it coming; in the daily business of show business people are born and killed everyday. But even with a destructive lifestyle that is the norm in that world, and his professional and personal frustrations well known, the death of Reeves still came as a shock. The man who deflected thousands of bullets on the screen was stopped by one fired into his temple (by his own hand no less). The pronouncement of “suicide” was never officially questioned, but like any Hollywood story worth its grandeur, this one is steeped in conspiracy theories never fully quelled.
In Hollywoodland, the screen adaptation of Reeves’s saga, Adrien Brody plays Louis Simo, a private detective hired by Reeves’s mother to investigate the possibility that her son was murdered. As Simo investigates the seemingly straightforward circumstances of Reeves’s death, he finds one mystery after another. Through flashbacks of Reeves (portrayed sincerely here by Ben Affleck) and his notorious affair with Toni Mannix (the wife of MGM executive Eddie Mannix, played by Diane Lane), Simo learns that whatever the truth may be, it involved much more that the official police report ever suggested. Well, probably—he can’t be sure.
Placed in an intricately devised, falsely idyllic air of the 1950s, Hollywoodland is a beautifully crafted film—calm in its plotting, deliberate in execution. Unlike most murder mysteries, it never tries to assume an importance to overshadow the original story; the main focus always remains the death of Reeves, not Simo’s investigation. As such, the audience is treated to a rich recreation of Reeves’s demise—sad to witness, but enlightening nonetheless. The fall of Reeves is not simply an outcome of a pouting celebrity’s fatal whim, but rather it is built here as the price paid for fame. The little boy from Iowa who dreamed big did one day become Superman, but the industry always takes as much from a person as it gives, and that sense is undeniable after experiencing the film.
Despite periodic failings in filling out the period’s little details (Brody’s insistence on calling his son “scout” is hollow, and just plain unnecessary), the film is a credible creation of a world now forgotten. Affleck’s Reeves is as chauvinistic, self-promoting and confident as a real hero of his era would be. The 25 pounds the actor gained for the role add an admirable touch, making him a macho man as his time, not ours, would have him. Brody’s, too, is a fine embodiment—a bit clichéd perhaps, but seamlessly conducted for the most part. From his sense of self-importance, his affinity for high profile cases and his incessant habit barking up the wrong tree, we get more than just a hint of Jack Nicholson’s Jake Gittes (Chinatown). But though he’d fall far short as an imitation, Brody’s Simo is an interesting character in his own right, whose motives are astutely hidden, and that aura of human fallacy never leaves him.
As well-built of a thriller as it is, the film lacks the one thing any film like this needs—a solution. It builds up suspense momentously, but ultimately its simply too insubstantial to feel complete. Hollywoodland is the cinematic adaptation of those crazy conspiracy theories that surround all Hollywood tragedies—or, at least, it should be. It’s greatest failing lies in the fact that though it is a work of fiction only loosely based on real events, the film hesitates to take leaps in developing its plotline. We are shown many intriguing possibilities, but the film never commits to any of them. It’s almost as if it is afraid to get the story wrong.
But in a film that promises to unravel a conspiracy as grand as this one, there have to be some incidences that cannot be verified, even some that are completely fabricated. Why not, then, pick a solution and roll with it? The film is much more interested in introducing an impression of humanity in all its characters. As an audience, we can appreciate its attempt to show that all people have their weaknesses, but it’s hard to overcome one of our own—the one that demands answers.
Hollywoodland is playing in theaters across the country.
By: Imran J. Syed
Published on: 2006-09-15