Saturday 15 October 2011

Movie Review: Hollywoodland (2006)

A muddled attempt to create a story where there may be none, Hollywoodland stumbles around looking for a cool gumshoe vibe but emerges with a dull mess.

The real death of actor George Reeves at age 45 in 1959 of a gunshot wound to the head was ruled a suicide, but suspicions remain that maybe he was killed. Reeves was television's Superman, but at the time of his death was comprehensively underemployed and likely depressed. It is understandable that Superman committing suicide is a hard story to swallow, but Hollywoodland does the conspiracy theories no favours.

The film centres around low-level private detective Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), desperate for any client, pursuing the rumour that there was more to the death of Reeves (Ben Affleck) than the official story. Simo's ineffective bumbling around the events of Reeves' death are mixed with flashbacks of the actor's career.

The script by Paul Bernbaum works hard to create a villain out of MGM executive Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins), whose wife Toni (Diane Lane) carried on an open affair with Reeves for many years. Rumours and legends have long swirled around Mannix, for his alleged gangland connections and unofficial role as one of MGM's "fixers", arranging cover-up stories for the studio stars when their behaviour landed them in more trouble than was helpful for their careers. Hollywoodland labours to float theories that either Mannix or his wife may have purposefully or accidentally caused Reeves death. But director Allen Coulter back pedals meekly, conjecturing a full circle and tepidly parking the film where it started.

Affleck surprisingly emerges as the best thing in the movie, thanks to his human portrayal of Reeves as a gentleman, a modest acting talent seeking a better opportunity in the glamorous movie business, but pigeonholed as a kids' superhero on a cheesy TV show. The lovingly recreated scenes of Reeves portraying Superman and his interaction with the young fans of the show suggest that there was an intention of a whole other type of movie somewhere along the line: the detective Simo angle emits the foul odour of a hastily slapped together narrative to convert a lightweight homage into a failed mystery.

There are plenty of sordid tales to tell from the history of Hollywood. Hollywoodland targets the wrong legend and fumbles it.

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