© 2006 Ray Wong
Like Scorsese's The Aviator, Hollywoodland is a period Hollywood insider story that is ripe with scandals, intrigue, and glamor. It also reminds us that there's only one Scorsese, and he didn't make Hollywoodland.
Superman is dead. On June 16, 1959, millions of fans are shocked by the sudden death of George Reeves (Affleck), who enchanted children around the world as Superman on TV. The LAPD rules it a suicide and closes the case, but Reeves' mother (Smith) will not let questionable circumstances go unanswered. She hires private detective Louis Simo (Brody) to investigate the truth behind her son's death.
At first, Simo only does it for the money. Soon he finds evidence that doesn't make sense, and secrets that involve MGM executive Eddie Mannix (Hoskins) and his wife Toni (Lane). As he finds out more about George Reeves, the case becomes more and more personal to him. The deeper he goes, the more dangerous it gets, and the more obsessive he becomes. Finding the truth might not be as easy as he thinks.
Brody (King Kong) does a good job portraying a complex man whose own personal problems keep him from seeing straight sometimes. His intensity and sense of humor make it easier for us to identify with a character that is often not likable. Meanwhile, Affleck (Clerk II) has the thankless job of playing a Hollywood icon. Unfortunately, he looks and acts nothing like George Reeves, and he constantly reminds us that we're watching Ben Affleck the movie star. Lane (Must Love Dogs), on the other hand, is magnificent as Toni Mannix, a woman who is unabashedly in love with Reeves but remains loyal to her husband. She shows mastery of the vulnerability as well as sophistication that we've come to expect from her.
The supporting cast is generally good. Hoskins (Mrs. Henderson Presents) is particular fine as Eddie Mannix, the studio mogul who has an unconventional devotion to his wife. Parker (The Wicker Man) is solid as Simo's frustrated ex-wife. Tunney (The Darwin Award) plays Reeves' fiance Leonore Lemmon with equal touches of shrewdness and sadness, and Smith (Little Fugitive) commands the screen as Reeves' grieving mother.
Writer Bernbaum (Family Plan) adopts an unusual structure of parallel storytelling to unfold the mystery. As Simo investigates and speculates about the events that led to George Reeves' death, back stories about Reeves and Toni Mannix are revealed in flashbacks. At first, this structure works well to create intrigue and suspense, but soon it becomes somewhat tedious and confusing. Sure, there are clear connections between the past and present, and Bernbaum does a good job of only revealing the relevant clues at the right time; however, the links between Simo and Reeves are not obvious, and we wonder why we are following Simo so closely. Whose story is this anyway?
Also, the flashbacks are so much more interesting, possibly because George Reeves was an icon and also a much more interesting character than Louis Simo. The audiences come to see the story of George Reeves and who really killed him, and not about some private detective and his domestic problems. I wonder if the script would have been stronger if Bernbaum had kept the main focus on Reeves and Mannix, instead of Simo's soul-searching plot line.
Director Coulter (TV's Rome) is a TV veteran. His first foray into big-budget features is admirable but lackluster. Together with Bernbaum, they've made a mistake of focusing the story on Simo instead of Reeves. The pacing is too slow, and the editing is confusing, especially between past and present. The film is relatively dreary and slow during the "present" time; it only springs to life during the flashbacks. We can't get enough of George Reeves (even when Affleck was miscast in the role) and Toni Mannix and what they represent: old Hollywood glamor. The inconclusive ending is contrived and unsatisfying.
The production, however, is scrumptious and the period details are spot on. The movie would have been a hell of an good time had the filmmakers cast a better George Reeves and focused on the real Hollywoodland tale that gives us what we really want.
Stars: Adrien Brody, Ben Affleck, Diane Lane, Bob Hoskins, Molly Parker, Robin Tunney, Lois Smith
Director: Allen Coulter
Writer: Paul Bernbaum
MPAA Rating: R for language, violence and sexual content
Running Time: 126 minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 6.9 out of 10