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Sad Hollywood Lives
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by Jon Ochiai on Sep 20, 2006
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
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".
April 3, 2020