September 8, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 36
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Despite strong performances, Hollywoodland is better biography than mystery
Despite strong performances, Hollywoodland is better biography than mystery
by Lorelei Quenzer - SGN A&E Writer


Directed by Allen Coulter

Starring Adrien Brody, Diane Lane and Ben Affleck

Opens today at various theaters

Hollywoodland examines an episode infamous in Tinseltown - a mystery that, until I saw the movie, I had always assumed to be unmysterious. In June of 1959 actor George Reeves, best known for playing TV's Superman, died in his home from a single gunshot wound. The newspapers shout "Suicide!" and the LA PD quickly closes the case. But Reeves' mother, convinced that her son's name is being besmirched, pursues other investigative avenues. She hires a seedy private detective, Louis Simo (Adrien Brody, The Pianist) for a hefty $50 a day.

At first the PI is pretty sure Mrs. Bessolo is at best a desperate mother in the throes of grief, or at worst a narcissist who is intent on polishing the tarnished image of her famous son (Ben Affleck in what is possibly a career-saving performance). But it begins to look as if she might have a case as Simo uncovers Reeves' torrid affair with the wife of an MGM studio executive (Diane Lane, Unfaithful). He also discovers Reeves had a turbulent relationship with his fiancée (Robin Tunney, "Prison Break"), an aspiring starlet who might have been a little too ambitious for the actor who, once typecast as "The Man of Steel," had little-to-no career mobility. You see the set ups? They come at you from miles away. Will Simo solve the case? Will someone try to stop him?

Hollywoodland tries its noir-ish best to be another LA Confidential, but it finds itself mired in period details. While LA Confidential only had to be plausible in its depiction of the Tinseltown of the 50's, Hollywoodland has to nail it as a biopic, and there is altogether too much bio of other characters going on. I found myself distracted from the mystery by that gossip-loving voice in my head. "Is that true?" I'd ask myself about a tidbit dropped in passing about a starlet. "Ooh, I wanna go there!" said my inner ADHD.

Some folks might also have problems with what's being referred to, inaccurately, as the movie's "triple-ending." (As Simo investigates he imagines different scenarios for Reeves' demise; these come throughout the film, with what is presumably the "real answer" at the end.) While I had no problems following Simo's train of thought I was ultimately unsatisfied by his conclusion. That doesn't mean I don't recommend Hollywoodland. It's just that, with such a raw payoff as a murder mystery, the film is more successful as an exploration of the fantasy and reality of fame. Had the movie tried to be more like The Aviator and less like The Usual Suspects, I think I'd be more enthusiastic.

Of course, then the director would have no excuse to hire Adrien Brody. He is, as always, riveting, adding just the right amount of sauciness to the seedy Simo. Affleck is remarkable as the corn belt-bred Reeves (pardon me for saying so, but it's about time he knocked one out of the park) and Lane is, in turns, beguiling and bitchy as Reeves' mistress. The film is the feature directorial debut for Allen Coulter, who has been nominated for Directors Guild and Emmy awards for his work on "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City." He shows a deft, if slightly unbalanced, hand: Hollywoodland is stylish but perhaps there's just a little too much of the kitchen sink in this drama.

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