"Hollywoodland" doesn't have a clue

Sept. 13, 2006, midnight | By April DalBello | 14 years, 4 months ago

Film just can't close the case

"Hollywoodland" wants to be an extremely suspenseful film that weaves a dark tale about the life and death of a glamorous but troubled actor. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite get there.

Based on a true story, "Hollywoodland" tells the tale of the mystery surrounding the shooting and death of George Reeves, the actor famous for playing Superman on the small screen in the 1950s, and the sly detective who seeks to reveal the truth.

Ben Affleck, as Reeves, does a compelling job playing a distraught children's show actor who desires to shed his former image and be taken seriously as a mature performer and director. Steadfast and convincing, Affleck displays in his character the complexity of Reeve's emotions while maintaining the straightforward desire to better himself in society. However, his performance is not without flaws. His unconvincing interactions with his on-screen fiancee Leonore, (Robin Tunney), are extremely obvious and the chemistry between the two is sorely lacking.

Even with such a star-studded cast, Adrien Brody gives by far the best performance as he skillfully portrays a private eye by the name of Louis Simo. Simo's main goal is to make a name (and some cash) for himself by uncovering the truth, or at least faking it, but he soon becomes convinced that Reeves did not commit suicide, as was widely believed, but was murdered. Simo is a very intense character, and thus he becomes the center of attention in every scene.

As Simo digs deeper into the case, three principal scenarios haunt him. Was Reeves accidentally murdered by Leonore in a drunken rage? Was it the jealous Toni, played brilliantly by Diane Lane, driven so insane by loneliness and fear of age in a youth obsessed town that she, or her jealous cheating husband, who shot him? Or did Reeves himself, feeling so dejected by his fading life and career, commit suicide?

Though he is constantly and sometimes violently asked to drop the case and move on, Simo is determined to solve it. However, throughout his investigation, he is threatened and assaulted by men working for Toni's husband, Eddie Mannix, played by a sinister Bob Hoskins, the President of MGM who intends to squelch anything that could affect the studio adversely.
Director Allen Coulter's use of flashbacks adds an unnecessary level of confusion to the film. The flashbacks of scenes before Reeves' murder, which occur approximately every three to seven minutes, interrupt the narrative flow of the film as opposed to adding suspense. The real problem though, is that there is no indication that the flashbacks are indeed flashbacks, so, at least until they figure it out, the viewers are left utterly confused as to what is going on.

Too much time is devoted to Simo's domestic problems as well, including a failed marriage and an unloving son, which, for some reason, motivates Simo to solve the case, but do not add anything to the plot. The film should have instead focused more on Simo gathering clues, because the whole plot basically revolves around the case. However, the atmosphere created of 1950's Hollywood is essentially very persuasive, and viewers get a real sense of the social suburbia scene mixed with romantic Hollywood affairs.

The truth of how George Reeves died may never be known, and therefore the film can't stake out a firm position on what really happened. That's better than a forced conclusion, but it doesn't keep the audience from leaving with the impression that all has come to very little. After all of the exploration, the heartache and the violence, the film ultimately comes to nothing, leaving viewers with the sinking feeling that they have wasted another $10.

"Hollywoodland" (126 minutes) is rated R for language, some violence and sexual content and is playing in area theaters.

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