Film review by: Witney Seibold

hollywoodland2.jpg            George Reeves, famous for playing Superman on the classic television series, may have killed himself on June 16th 1959. There is some ambiguity as to what happened the night he was found dead. Was he killed by a jealous fiancée? Was he accidentally shot? Or did the pressure of being pigeonholed into a role he didn’t really like playing finally take its toll?


 “Hollywoodland” follows the career of George Reeves from its inception to its tragic end, through the eyes of a hard-working private detective named Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), hired by the aforementioned fiancée, to investigate the man’s death. We see in flashbacks how Reeves (Ben Affleck, very good) lucked his way into the business through the bed of a married gangster’s moll named Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), and how the eventually-landed Superman role was a blessing for his fame, but a curse to his credibility as an actor (his scenes were cut from “From Here to Eternity” because of “Superman” ballyhoo). Reeves was an unhappy man in tights.


            Eventually the money lent from Toni buys him a house, and the role buys him all the drugs he needs. Since he was tied in with the mob, and wasn’t always good about keeping his sugar-mommy happy, his spiral of depression only led downward.


            Everyone making “Superman” realized how ridiculous it was, but few could have guessed its popularity among children. It was the first time kids ran in from outside to see a specific TV show at a specific time. There’s a great scene in which Simo, trying to comfort his mourning son (Zach Mills), can’t understand why the kid can’t differentiate between the actor and the character. There is a recorded incident, dramatized in “Hollywoodland” of a kid who offered to shoot George Reeves in the chest – with a real loaded gun he had somehow acquired – just to see the bullets bounce off. Reeves had to very carefully, wearing his costume, talk the kid down.


            “Hollywoodland” explores the birth of the Hollywood illusion factory proper, the nascent period when film and television became a classy pastime to an American obsession with the illusion on screens and their disconnect with the personal lives of celebrities. It was a wise choice of director Allen Coulter to focus on the PI investigating the “murder,” rather than on Reeves himself. With focus on the people at Hollywood’s feet and the fame system in general, we can see how hard it is to realize the humanity of an icon.


            The original title of this film was “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” which seems to cut closer to the heart of the matter, but was not used for copyright reasons.


            The film could have stood a little less melodramatic angst; Simo is an alcoholic and trying to win back his son from his ex-wife (Molly Parker), and some of the mob-related twists and turns are obviously red herrings. Snore. The actors, however, all take their roles with gusto (Lane especially is perfect as a sexy woman afraid of aging), and the film moves swiftly and tragically toward its inevitable conjectures of what really happened. It wisely never gives a definite answer.

             Bob Hoskins plays the gangster, and it’s always a pleasure to see him in a film. Robin Tunney also shows up.            

Published in: on October 16, 2007 at 8:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

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