'Hollywoodland' *** Movie review 092206

The Work = ***
'Hollywoodland' is an enjoyable enough mystery / drama that isn’t as engrossing as it could have been but is still worth seeing nonetheless. The reason to see the movie is for Ben Affleck’s startlingly good performance as TV and movie star George Reeves. Reeves shot to stardom in the title role of the hit 1950s 'Superman' TV series and was somewhat reluctant with his celebrity.

I am going to give a fair warning at this point that I will talk about events in Reeves life that are minor spoilers, they are revealed in the movie trailers for 'Hollywoodland' and/ or by having even a basic knowledge of Reeves life but this is still a SPOILER WARNING.

Reeves would be dead less than two years after the 'Superman' TV series went off the air. 'Hollywoodland' is really two stories, one is the story of Reeves brief rise and fall in the final years of his life, the other story is of private detective Louis Simo (Adrien Brody.) The Reeves sections of the film are always engaging and really make the movie. I was drawn into the actor’s story and Affleck manages to pull off an Anthony Hopkins: He doesn’t really look like Reeves but somehow is Reeves in every step he takes.

The Simo side of the story is where 'Hollywoodland' runs into trouble. Simo is the wonderful staple of fiction: the down on his luck private eye. Here there are some unique takes the archetype: his pseudo-secretary / girlfriend is an aspiring actress and he operates out of a hotel room. The trouble is there is enough plot for Simo to star in his own movie. He gets hired to look into the death of actor Reeves who was found dead of an apparent suicide. Simo is reluctant but as he begins to examine the case, questions begin to emerge. Was Reeves death more than a simple suicide?

In some respects the Simo sections of 'Hollywoodland' are by the numbers. If you have seen a movie with a private detective than you have probably seen most of the motions Simo goes through. Director Allen Coulter, husband of wacky commentator Ann Coulter... Just kidding. Director Coulter handles the material well and when Simo is at work on the Reeves case there is a sense of urgency and drama and I was drawn in to his work. The problem is, there is a second case that has nothing to do with the Reeves case that is also followed throughout the film. (I actually found myself longing for the way the cops in 'Miami Vice' dropped the first case they were working on at the beginning of the film and moved on.)

Not only does Simo’s second case drag out the movie but it has little payoff in the film as well. To make matters worse there is a whole subplot in the film with Simo’s son and ex-wife. While acted well, the sections of the film involving Simo’s family simply grind the movie to a near halt. It is a shame Coulter and crew felt the need to leave these passages as well as all of Simo’s second case in the film because they keep 'Hollywoodland' from being as engaging as it could be.

For their part the rest of the cast help to make the film engrossing. Diane Lane, perhaps one of the better actresses working today, (who seldom gets the credit she deserves,) is solid here as Toni Mannix the wife of movie mogul Eddie Mannix. Bob Hoskins plays Eddie Mannix and is good (as Hoskins almost always is.) Hoskins is great at roles like Eddie: short and friendly faced, the actor is somehow very intimidating without being physical. Eddie exudes power and he seemed like a man who knew his time was running out but wasn’t about to change his ways anytime soon.

It is a shame that the filmmakers didn’t trim some of the Simo subplots out of the movie and add a sense of urgency to more of his scenes. Despite that, I enjoyed 'Hollywoodland' and am recommending it. Affleck as Reeves helps to make this movie worth seeing. He doesn’t always find the right roles but when he does like in this film or in the underrated thriller 'Changing Lanes' he is very good. Recommended.


'Hollywoodland' Links:

For an interesting read on George Reeves death, check out the Straight Dope. This is a two part article and the second part is written by the technical advisor for 'Hollywoodland'. He writes under the name jumblejim and I believe is actor Jim Beaver (who you might know as Ellsworth on the great show 'Deadwood'.) The article can be found HERE.
(Thanks to Dave for this.)


George Reeves page at Wikipedia

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