2007-03-19 16:02
What it’s about:

16 June, 1959: one of America’s most beloved actors, George Reeves (Ben Affleck), is found dead in his bedroom with a single gunshot wound to the head. After struggling for years to break into Hollywood’s A-list, Reeves had taken a job playing The Man of Steel on a low budget TV series called "Adventures of Superman." The show was an unexpected success, and made Reeves a hero to children across the country. When the LAPD rule the death as suicide, Reeve’s mother Helen (Lois Smith), refuses to accept it, and hires private detective Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) to dig deeper. Simo soon uncovers Reeve’s torrid affair with Toni Mannix (Diane Lane) - the wife of MGM boss Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins) - a dangerous relationship that may hold the key to the mystery.

What we thought of it:

When a movie resembles its subject matter, it can often be a good thing. An off-the-wall comedy, for instance, can benefit from an unconventional plot or quirky camera angles. But in the case of Hollywoodland - a story of wasted potential, failure and disappointment – the movie itself is uncomfortably similar to the things it is describing.

Like Reeves himself, the film starts out full of potential. It’s handsomely dressed and bathed in golden light, with a fascinating mystery at its centre that seems destined to be solved by the end. But the cracks soon begin to show, from Ben Affleck’s shoddy false nose to the meandering plot, and by the end we are left as frustrated and unfulfilled as both Reeves and the detective who is investigating him.

Part of the problem is the way the film advertises itself – as a gritty, noir-ish detective tale set in Hollywood’s seedy underbelly. While it certainly has elements of a Dashiell Hammett murder mystery, they are only window dressing for the real story, a ponderous, melancholy study in frustrated ambition. However hardboiled they may be, detective stories require a conclusion, but in Hollywoodland there is none to be had.

It’s not that the film isn’t interesting, or that there aren’t touches of brilliance. The picture it paints of Hollywood in the late ‘50s is a vivid one, full of seedy characters and lurking dread. Though most of us are too young to even remember Reeves’s name, we can still recognise the thrill of seeing the story “behind” The Man of Steel. The film is full of the sort of lovingly crafted details that can only have come from years of research – just one of the many signs that the filmmakers are devoted to telling this story well.

The actors, too, seem deeply committed to the project. Ben Affleck gives his best performance since his debut in Good Will Hunting, though early rumours that he might earn an Oscar nomination seem overblown. The adaptable and charismatic Adrien Brody is as excellent as ever, and Diane Lane gives another solid performance as the jilted trophy wife. But it’s Bob Hoskins who really steals the show as the menacing Eddie Mannix – all gravely voice and steely-eyed authority.

But, for all its fine parts, the film ultimately comes to naught. It goes to great lengths to draw comparisons between Louis Simo’s life and Reeves’ – both are failures in their own eyes – but can never show us why this is at all significant. Hollywoodland relies on the idea that you are fascinated by its subject matter, and if you aren’t then there isn’t much else to entertain you.

In the end Hollywoodland is a noble failure. It wants to tell a complex story of ambition and disappointment for which there is no easy conclusion. But, like Reeves’s career, it promises too much and delivers too little.

- Alistair Fairweather
The trailers paint Hollywoodland as a gritty detective story about the death of George Reeves. In reality it's more of a slow-burning study in frustration and melancholy.

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