Hollywoodland (2006) / Drama-Mystery
MPAA Rated: R for nudity, sexuality, violence, and language
Running Time: 126 min.
Cast: Adrien Brody, Ben Affleck, Diane Lane, Robin Tunney, Bob Hoskins, Lois Smith, Molly Parker, Kathleen Robertson, Zach Mills, Dash Mihok
Director: Allen Coulter
Screenplay: Paul Bernbaum
Review published September 18, 2006
The final moments in the life of actor George Reeves, best known for playing Clark Kent/Superman in the 1950s television series, "The Adventures of Superman", is one of the most enduring mysteries surrounding a celebrity death in Hollywood lore. Although concluded to be a suicide, there are complications in the physical evidence that have raised suspicions, and also more than one theory that foul play may have been involved. Multiple bullet holes in the walls and floor, the resting place of the gun, and the fact that it took almost 45 minutes for the death to be called in to the police despite there being several people in the house, have led to wide speculation among many, including friends and family of Reeves who insist that he wasn't the sort to have ever contemplated ending his own life, that he was, in fact, murdered.
During this period of Reeves' life, he had been plagued with an inability to achieve success in films, especially after being typecast as "Superman" in the eyes of many. He also had ended an affair with Toni Mannix, the wife of studio mogul Eddie Mannix (who apparently condoned the affair), which had left her resentful and quite jealous of his new lover and eventual fiancée, Leonore Lemmon. Given the fact that the phone call to the police took so long, some have questioned whether Lenore might have had a role in Reeves death, whether accidental or intentional. It is also suspected that Toni Mannix could have never gotten over Reeves' leaving her for another woman, or that her husband Eddie, who was very protective of his wife and interests, might have also been involved.
Hollywoodland is a mostly fictionalized account of the investigation into the death of Reeves by a fictitious two-bit private investigator, Louis Simo (Brody, King Kong). While Reeves' mother did hire someone to look into the death, and that person bore some traits used in the character of Simo, the rest of it resides firmly in the "what if" category of filmmaking, and the film itself should be taken as a fictionalized account of real-life events meant to uncover certain truths, or at the very least, some questions.
While some viewers will no doubt find some objection to the fact that they are trying to piece together a puzzle in which all of the pieces aren't actually a part, I do believe that, as a movie, Hollywoodland more than makes up for its existence by raising all of the important questions, wrapped up in a dual-layered narrative that re-enact certain events in the life of Reeves, while also using is fictional Simo family to provide thematic resonance to the nature of its "fact vs. fiction" argument. Just as Simo tells his impressionable son to recognize the difference between reality and he fantasy of what we see on TV and in the movies, we are also instructed indirectly to do the same. Despite the fiction that we see, we shouldn't dismiss that which we found value in when we learn that it isn't real, as the reason the drama has always been compelling strikes on certain truths in who we are and how we react.
Hollywoodland is a finely-acted drama, featuring strong performances, especially by Brody and a charismatic Affleck (Man About Town, Surviving Christmas), with a sumptuous visual style. This marks the feature film debut of longtime television director Coulter, and its a very impressive one, with a good eye for the look and feel of the eras presented. The narrative shifts from the investigation to the life of Reeves, often in non-linear fashion, but Coulter manages to stay focused and keep us always in the know, even delivering a good deal of food for thought, not only in the life of Reeves, but also in the running of the studio system of Hollywood's yesteryear. It's a fascinating story in many respects.
Some may walk into Hollywoodland expecting to walk out of it with conclusive evidence as to just what happened to George Reeves that resulted in his death. I suppose it won't be a spoiler to mention that, while several possibilities are explored, each theory is given an almost equal treatment, to the point where many in the viewing audience may feel conflicted as to what really happened on that fateful night. Regardless of what you conclude, if you conclude anything at all, the strength of Hollywoodland doesn't lie in its ultimate conclusion, but rather, in its ability to tell a story, utilizing whatever narrative device, whether truthful or not, to raise more important truths about the nature of fame, fortune, love, and deception. It's as much about the death of the old Hollywood system as it is the death of Reeves, consummately manufactured in the cold, assured fashion of the biting, noir-ish style of Hollywood's yesteryear.
©2006 Vince Leo