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Sad Hollywood Lives

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by Jon Ochiai on Sep 20, 2006

9/10

I saw "Hollywoodland" at the screening with my bud Robert, after the movie had already opened. On the surface, I was not in a rush to see "Hollywoodland". I was familiar with the story of George Reeves, who played Superman on TV in the 50's, and that he died in suicide. Director Allen Coulter's "Hollywoodland" is engrossing provocative storytelling. The movie pulls you in. "Hollywoodland" is a great movie. Writer Paul Bernbaum poses three different possible scenarios surrounding George Reeves's death, including suicide. All plausible. All tragic. First time feature director Coulter and Bernbaum capture the atmosphere of the omnipotent Hollywood studio era of the 1950's. "Hollywoodland" is also surprising in that it is about very sad people engulfed in tragedy, and is yet compelling throughout.

In 1959 George Reeves (Ben Affleck) is found shot to death at his home with his fiancÚ, Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney). The police investigation rules it a suicide. Reeves's mother Helen Bessolo (Lois Smith) hires $50 a day private investigator Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) to uncover the truth regarding her son's death. Here Coulter and Bernbaum seamlessly blend the present and retrospect narrative. Reeves (Affleck) is a handsome young actor whose acclaim was a speaking role in "Gone with the Wind". However, he is unable to parlay that into a breakthrough role. He engages openly in an affair with Toni Mannix (glamorous Diane Lane), the wife of MGM studio boss Eddie Mannix (scary Bob Hoskins). Eddie, who also has his own lovers, does not seem to mind as long as Toni is happy. Serious actor George reluctantly agrees to play "Superman" on TV, while he waits for something big. Although conceived as a kids' show, "Superman" becomes a crossover hit, and George becomes a celebrity. George does manage to snag a role in "From Here to Eternity", but as those who know the movie, know that Reeves was not in the final version. Unsatisfied with being forever known as Superman, Reeves embarks upon a career as a producer. Inevitably his life and career spiral tragically and sadly.

Louis Simo (Brody) discovers this in his investigation for his client. Simo is making the best of his own life. He is divorced from his wife Laurie (Molly Parker). His son Evan (Zach Mills) is distraught by the death of Superman. Simo works out of his apartment and is sleeping with his wannabe actress secretary. The reopening of the Reeves case is his shot at notoriety and a measure of redemption. And the conspiracy soon finds Simo, whether it is the brutish tactics of Eddie Mannix, apparently attempting to protect his wife or conversations with his studio power broker, the reserved and ruthless Joe Spano as Howard Strickling.

Coulter may ultimately hint at what he thinks happened to Reeves. "Hollywoodland" is about the actions and consequences of people with very sad existences. All the performances are great. Ben Affleck is amazing as George Reeves. He enrolls a charm and spirit as Reeves. He also captures the self-destructive fatalism in the character. Affleck nuances compassion for a very sad man. This is Affleck's best performance. Diane Lane has a decidedly harsh take on Toni Mannix that is powerful and uncompromising. Her Toni is outwardly vulnerable looking for the love of her life in Reeves, only to be betrayed. Bob Hoskins plays Eddie Mannix as the overbearing thug. Hoskins, being the great actor that he is, subtly displays Eddie's true affection for Toni just below the surface. Adrien Brody is awesome. At times you want to dismiss his Simo as such a loser, but there is something so genuine in his character and commitment despite his motives. Brody embodies edgy street smarts. His search for the truth leads to a personal catharsis. Brody gives a powerful performance. You are left to decide what really happened to George Reeves. Coulter and Bernbaum tell an intriguing story about one of Hollywood's mysteries. What strikes you most is not the death itself, but rather the impact on the lives of some very sad people in "Hollywoodland".

  January 21, 2019

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