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Adrien Brody makes headlines in Hollywoodland

 
 
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Hollywoodland
cast: Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins, and Joe Spano

director: Allen Coulter

127 minutes (R) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Universal Focus NTSC DVD Region 1 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Donald Morefield
It's interesting to compare this movie to Brian De Palma's flawed The Black Dahlia. Like that production, this intriguing drama is based on a real life mystery set in the postwar era, but here the plot involves a celebrity suicide, not an unsolved murder case, and uncovers situations that are markedly less salacious than Black Dahlia's most heinous true crime material.

George Reeves played Superman on TV in the 1950s. Despite that show's technical shortcomings (so obvious today), for a generation of children and their parents, he was the 'Man of Steel'. Hollywoodland draws upon a host of film noir conventions and gumshoe clichés while recounting the stark facts and offering a darkly amusing, but nonetheless tragic, set of fictions about Reeves' seemingly inexplicable death. In many ways Paul Bernbaum's screenplay adds not a jot of true inspiration to the familiar traditions of vintage Hollywood pictures. It's uncovering of diabolical studio sleaze and the death-wish anxieties of slave-driven contract players stymied by typecasting is really nothing new, of course. Likewise, the soul-searching exploration of a promising actor's unfulfilled dreams of mature, prestigious roles and Academy respect has all been done before, and often. Adrien Brody's luckless private eye Louis Simo has precious little novelty to confer upon this wannabe-classic 'crime' scandal. What saves Hollywoodland from sinking into the been-there, done-that movie pit of formless mediocrity are a couple of excellent performances from Brody's co-stars.

I'm not a fan of Ben Affleck. His work so far - especially for comedy director Kevin Smith, has been characterised by such an aching dullness of wit and complete lack of charm that, even when he stars in a reasonably good film (and here I'm thinking of Daredevil and Paycheck, but definitely not Pearl Harbour and The Sum Of All Fears), it's almost certain that the film in question succeeds, in spite of, rather than because of, his presence. However, playing the terminally depressed Reeves, driven by ambition yet haunted by his past, Affleck is something of a revelation. Downbeat in private, yet winningly sociable and often mercurial in public, Reeves is presented as a potential super-star who was cruelly cheated by fate and circumstances. What is particularly satisfying about Hollywoodland is that Affleck rises to the challenge of portraying this complex personality with such an impressive commitment, and in such outstanding fashion. Who'd have thought Affleck had it in him?

Diane Lane is perfectly cast in Hollywoodland as Toni Mannix, the adulterous and manipulative wife of studio boss Eddie (played by Bob Hoskins). She crackles with sex appeal and elegant sophistication as the unhappy Superman's secret lover. Yet, when later spurned by Affleck's increasingly feckless Reeves, she breaks so easily to expose a shockingly all-too-human vulnerability. Her loneliness is deeply moving. Although Reeves' scheming fiancée Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney, as lovely as ever) attempts to steal the limelight in Hollywoodland, as a seductive femme fatale, it's the fabulous Lane's stunning turn as 'the other woman' that you will not be able to forget, long after the bitter Lemmon has faded from memory.

Reeves' estranged mother Helen Bessolo (Lois Smith) is the third influential female in his life. Whether she was, as one fascinating subplot/ flashback in this drama's novelistic expression of storytelling suggests, inadvertently the cause of, or at least a contributing factor to, her son's misery is debatable. Hollywoodland is at pains to make it clear that she was, nonetheless, probably not a good and caring parent, and was perhaps a damaging influence on both the official police and tabloid-hankering private investigations into Reeves' curious and suspicious death.

As long as you don't expect a tale of intolerably twisted outrage, like Chinatown, or a tinsel town myth seething with darkness, like Black Dahlia, this film is certainly a thoroughly engaging slice of 1950s' style melodrama, full of passion, crushed hopes and shattering loss, peopled with fall guys, fallen women, quietly sinister baddies, and a disquieting lack of authentic heroes (this last specifically ironic, of course, in view of Reeves' celebrated TV role). Its combination of wild speculation and a quest for something like a genuine human truth is, unquestionably, well worth your time.

DVD extras: featurettes on Recreating Old Hollywood, and true stories Behind The Headlines, plus deleted scenes, the director's commentary track, and a comparative look at Hollywood Then And Now.
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