Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted Scenes; Re-Creating The Old Hollywood – Featurette; Behind The Headlines – Featurette; Hollywood Then And Now – Featurette.
IS IT a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Ben Affleck’s career going back into orbit following his acclaimed performance in this classy noir-thriller based on one of Hollywood’s most tawdry unsolved mysteries.
After a series of high-profile flops that encompassed such debacles as Gigli, Paycheck and Surviving Christmas – not to mention the awful Pearl Harbor – Affleck serves a timely reminder of why he was once considered one of Tinseltown’s brightest prospects.
What’s more, he does it in a role that has the feel of art imitating life given that he plays a once promising actor who is forced to take on a series of demeaning jobs after failing to realise his potential.
Affleck, however, emerges triumphant which is more than can be said for his on-screen persona – ex-Superman actor George Reeves who, as the film begins, is found dead from a single gunshot wound at his LA home in 1959.
A verdict of suicide is recorded but a private detective, Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), is hired to dig deeper and uncovers a web of scandal involving Reeves’ married ex-mistress (Diane Lane) and her studio boss husband (Bob Hoskins).
Hollywoodland marks the debut feature film from Allen Coulter and is an extremely involving affair that serves as a compelling exposé of the darker side of celebrity and an intriguing whodunnit.
Paul Bernbaum’s complex screenplay offers three possibilities surrounding Reeves’s death – that he died from his own hand, was shot accidentally by his younger wife (Robin Tunney) or was murdered because of his involvement with studio chief, Eddie Mannix’s wife.
But it doesn’t profess to offer any definitive answers and remains content to flit back and forth between Simo’s investigation and Reeves’s life and career, thereby providing an interesting contrast between two very similar men.
Brody, as ever, is terrific as the private eye who comes to view the case as a shot at personal redemption (both in terms of his own career and through the eyes of his estranged son) but it’s Affleck who commands the very best moments.
As Reeves, he is fascinating as a man who was ultimately destroyed by the Hollywood machine – someone who outwardly took the responsibility of playing a character like Superman seriously, but who continually strove for greater things and became frustrated by the burden the role placed upon him.
It’s this aspect of the story, relayed via flashback, that really drives the film and provides some equally involving supporting performances from Lane (as Reeves’s mistress) and Hoskins (as her husband, Eddie Mannix).
The sumptuous look of the film lends it a noirish quality that hasn’t been captured as successfully since LA Confidential and Bernbaum’s sparkling script drops some wonderful asides about the shifting landscape of mainstream cinema in that era.
There are flaws, of course, such as the artistic licence that has been taken with elements of Reeves’s career and aspects of Simo’s story, which feel more like padding.
The unsolved nature of the Reeves case also deprives viewers of any real sense of closure.
But for Affleck’s career-redefining performance alone this comes highly recommended, especially since he is sure to attract further nominations to add to the acting award he picked up from Venice earlier this year.
Running time: 2hrs 6mins