2006, R, 126 min. Directed by Allen Coulter. Starring Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins, Lois Smith, Robin Tunney.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 8, 2006
Although this movie stokes the dying embers of uncertainty regarding the 1959 death of George Reeves, TV's Superman, it nevertheless seems that the result should be more provocative and scandalous. As it is, Hollywoodland is a Tinseltown story without the tinsel, a whodunit that has little mystery. Reeves died from a single gunshot wound that was ruled a suicide, although some suspicion lingers to this day as to the accuracy of that determination. It is presumed that Reeves committed suicide because he was despondent about the stasis in his career, having begun auspiciously with his screen debut in Gone With the Wind but having stalled unexpectedly as a result of the typecasting that haunted the actor in his post-Superman hunt for work. The film is quite insightful about the pitfalls of Hollywood fame, and the casting of Affleck (who also has some firsthand knowledge of the subject) is full of sly resonance, apart from the overt physical resemblance of the two cleft-chin actors. In fact, the acting in the film is terrific and goes a long way toward creating the film's old Hollywood feel – even though Hollywoodland never achieves the same definition as its obvious model L.A. Confidential. The script, by Paul Bernbaum, loses its focus by turning Brody's low-rent private eye, Louis Simo, into the central character of the story. Despite his separation from his wife, Simo still tries to be an attentive father to his young son, who becomes devastated over Superman's suicide. A parallel story about a marital-infidelity case Simo is working on, which goes awry, only adds extra clutter. And the film's last third, which plays out several death-scene scenarios, is the kind of a la carte filmmaking that bespeaks an ultimate lack of viewpoint. The introduction of MGM head of publicity Howard Strickland (Spano, in bad make-up) comes too late in the story to carry the pervasive sense of menace the character is meant to convey. Director Coulter, who has helmed many excellent episodes of The Sopranos and Sex and the City seems less sure of himself in his first-time feature directing gig. The window Hollywoodland offers into old-style workings of the company town is fascinating to behold, however, the film doesn't always know where to direct our gaze.