Saturday, September 9, 2006

Reel To Reel: Hollywoodland

Murder, Movies and the Man of Steel.

How It Rates: ***1/2
Starring: Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck
Rated: R
Red Flags: Language, Graphic Violence, One Explicit Sex Scene

Actor George Reeves found himself trapped as Superman, TV hero to millions of children in the 1950's. Despite the adoration of the young, he wanted to be Clark Gable instead of Clark Kent. Yet when he landed a role in From Here To Enternity, audiences yelled out "Superman!" Reeves never did find another huge role, and so we are led to believe his disillusionment with Hollywood factored into his 1959 death, officially ruled a suicide but unofficially considered a murder.

Hollywoodland explores the theories surrounding Reeves' (Affleck) death through the eyes of Louis Simo (Brody), a low-rent gumshoe reduced to taking fast bucks to spy on philandering spouses. Simo approaches his former partner looking for a handout and gets a tip on the Reeves case. LAPD has closed it, but Reeves' mother has doubts. She hires him, and Simo soon finds holes in the suicide theory, notably two holes in the floor of the actor's bedroom. He also probes Reeves' lovers, including Toni Mannix (Lane) -- wife of MGM studio head Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins) -- and socialite Leonore Lemmon, whom Reeves was set to marry days before he died. Director Allen Coulter offers considerable evidence to back up theories that Mr. Mannix or Lemmon were behind the actor's demise.

The further Simo probes the mystery, the more it consumes him. He wallows deeper into Hollywood's gritty subculture of sex and deception. The film moves at a brooding noir pace, sometimes a little too slow. Brody holds it together with his strong performance as a detective determined to learn the truth as it sends him down the Reeves road of self-destruction, distancing himself from his estranged wife and young son left distraught by Superman's death. Louis Simo knows he's in deep, but he can't walk away from a case with more stink than a bad B-movie script. Affleck is right on his mark as the frustrated man in the red-and-blue suit (or, grey suit because it stands out better on black-and-white film) who finds himself held back by the kryptonite of typecasting.

Hollywoodland is not a conspiracy-theory picture, but a picture dealing with conspiracies in a straightforward, rational manner. The period look and costuming will remind you of L.A. Confidential, but the film doesn't have a clear message to send other than Hollywood eats its own. It also has the unfortunate timing of coming out a week before Brian de Palma's similarly-themed whodunit The Black Dahlia, which means it risks getting lost in the multiplex shuffle.

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