Movie Review: Hollywoodland by Allen Coulter

Directed by Allen Coulter
Written by Paul Bernbaum

Adrien Brody as Louis Simo
Diane Lane as Toni Mannix
Ben Affleck as George Reeves

Bob Hoskins as Eddie Mannix
Robin Tunney as Leonore Lemmon


The story presents a fictionalized account of the shadowy circumstances surrounding the death of a real actor, George Reeves (played by Ben Affleck), the star of the 1950s television series Adventures of Superman.

Adrien Brody co-stars as a fictional character, Louis Simo, a private detective investigating the death of Reeves at a request of his mother who doesn’t believe in the official version of events. Soon Simo learns from a former police colleague that the Reeves suicide has aspects that the cops don’t want to touch. Sensing the potential for making a name for himself and earn some money as well, Simo begins investigating and notes several apparent conflicts with the official version of Reeves’s death. Soon enough he feels sympathy for the victim and wants to solve the mystery of his death despite many obstacles, thrown his way and knowing fully well that it might be detrimental to his professional plans.

In a flashback to 1951, Reeves, a charming young journeyman actor whose career has stalled since appearing in Gone With the Wind, catches the eye of a beautiful but definitely older woman in a restaurant. They end the night in bed. In the morning, a newspaper photo reveals to Reeves that his lover is nobody else but Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), the wife of MGM studio executive Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins). Frightened that an affair with a studio boss’s wife will destroy his every chance for a decent role, Reeves wants to make it just a one-night stand. Toni, however, claims to have an open relationship with her husband, who, with her knowledge and consent, has a Japanese mistress of his own. Toni and George continue to see each other and everything seems to be rosy.
 Being much wealthier and apparently completely infatuated with her younger lover, Toni behaves like your average sugar mommy. She buys Reeves expensive gifts such as a house and a car. She also arranges a meeting with her husband, helping him to get the starring role in the television series Adventures of Superman, based on the comic-book hero. The role makes Reeves famous and gives him a steady income, but he longs for more ambitious work. He becomes rather uncomfortable with the public’s stereotype of him as Superman, resulting in snickers when he is seen on screen in other productions like the war film From Here to Eternity.
Right before his death Reeves ends the affair with Toni and becomes engaged to a younger woman, an aspiring actress Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney). He wants to direct his own movies, move forward so people finally stop connecting him with the Superman. Unfortunately one night, right in the middle of a modest house party, he goes to his bedroom and shots himself, or is shot, apparently without any reason at all. Who did it and why?
My impressions:
It was one great movie. Actually I was surprised by the fact how much I liked it. Everything worked fine: Ben Aflleck as Reeves, Adrien Brody as Simo, the atmosphere of the 50s in Hollywood, the difficulties and woes of pursuing an acting career, everything. I never thought I would praise Ben Affleck as an actor and here he acted splendidly! What’s more I learned why Superman series is cursed (yes, it is! that’s official!) and some actors actually fear to be cast as that super hero in blue and red body stocking. The premise that the mysterious and unexpected death of an iconic Hollywood star may be just the tip of an iceberg of scandal in this showbiz drama rang so true.

Reeves’ death is still shrouded in mystery and Hollywoodland does its best to shed light on the decades old case which remains officially classified as a suicide.

This is a rare film that can be both intelligent and entertaining. It has comedy (not a lot but nevertheless), powerful scenes, great acting and a compelling story. Its biggest advantage? The director doesn’t offer a ready-to-adopt solution, Olivier Stone – style, doesn’t pretend to know more than the public, doesn’t yield any answers to the lingering question of did he or didn’t he. He only presents a couple of the more widely believed theories as to what happened that tragic night and plops them front and center to be examined and talked about by contemporary audiences. He treats the viewers as his peers, not a class of stupid pupils to be patronized and educated. 

The actors were splendid. I know I’ve already mentioned it but let me also add that Diane Lane’s sexy and vulnerable performance as Toni Mannix I consider one of her best. Lane never takes it over the top, even keeping the more emotionally charged scenes under control. The choice of Lane and Affleck as lovers isn’t obvious but it works thanks to solid performances from both actors. Yes, Mr Affleck, this time you won me over, what a very pleasant surprise! Finally Adrien Brody delivers another riveting performance as the intelligent private eye with his own set of issues who tenaciously fights for the truth. Brody’s responsible for making the story accessible, and in his hands the tale fully springs to life.
Final verdict:
A movie I recomment and one I’ll watch again with real pleasure. It is an example of a well-written adult drama, that teases answers and sparks conversations. Although it could have been a bit shorter, Hollywoodland’s definitely a must-see for mature audiences who love a good mystery.
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3 Responses to Movie Review: Hollywoodland by Allen Coulter

  1. Blodeuedd says:

    And one I think I would not like 😉

  2. I liked it too, but even though it was the standard 2 hours, it felt sooooo looooong. It could have done with 30 minutes edited out. I definitely agree about Diane Lane, she was awesome, and Adrien Brody was surprisingly believable as a noir-style PI. Ben Affleck was pitch-perfect but I kind of feel like he was playing himself??? Must be personal bias. 😉

  3. red witch says:

    It sounds interesting to me. Poor Ben Affleck! He has worked in a number of good films and turned out many solid performances but Gigli and a romance with Jennifer Lopez ruined his reputation. Although, that movie he won an Oscar for, Argo, does not treat the subject in a historically accurate way. The Canadians who risked their lives in Iraq to smuggle the Americans out were sort of edited out of the plot. I won't hate him for that. I will definitely keep an eye out for this one.

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