8 September 2006 | DonFishies
Deeply flawed, but packs a hell of a performance from Affleck
As if it was almost specifically planned out, we now have Hollywoodland, another Superman related film, only a few months after Superman Returns. And fortunately enough, that is where the comparisons end (unlike the upcoming Infamous and last year's coincidentally familiar Capote). While being heavily flawed, Hollywoodland succeeds in more than a few respects, and is rightfully worth a watch at some point.
The film book ends with the death of George Reeves (Ben Affleck), the actor who portrayed Superman in the 1950s television show. His death was ruled a suicide, but the film stands tall as a question to this. Told in parallel story format, the film follows both fictional private detective Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) as he tries to uncover more of the "hidden" pieces of Reeves' death, and Reeves himself as he rises from actor for hire to a superstar thanks to the wife (Diane Lane) of a studio head (Bob Hoskins).
The death of Reeves (and the subsequent "Superman Curse") has built up quite the controversy and publicity over the years, so it should be no surprise that someone finally took the liberty to make a film about it. But what screenwriter Paul Bernbaum has done here is unsuccessfully blend fiction with fact. While all of the sequences involving Reeves actually happened, everything with Simo did not. This has been done fairly well in the past, but here it just is a mixed bag. While the film throws multiple theories and multiple facts at you through Simo and the colourful cast of characters he meets, there is just a foreboding sense that something just feels off. You just know you are not getting an accurate picture of what was going on, and thus, the film just does not work on the level that it should. It also stretches the length of the film way past where it should have ended.
The scenes involving Reeves rise and eventual downfall however, are quite spectacular. While you just cannot feel for anything happening on the fictional end of the story, you actually really get a deep sense of what was going on with Reeves. It is absolutely fascinating to watch the events unfold, and these are literally the best scenes in the film. Unfortunately however, they come short and sweet between the scenes involving SImo, and thus end abruptly. Some scenes even involve some pretty fairly important plot points, and if they are not addressed during the scenes with Simo, they just are never gone back to again. It just seems like they had a basic outline and frame for the film, and they did not want to go anywhere outside of it.
The sets and look of the film are feel invested within the 1940s and 1950s, and make the film look authentic. Cars, buildings and costumes all look plucked right out from that time period, and all are well converted to look good enough in a film made in 2006. The cinematography portraying an earlier age of Hollywood is superb in its execution, and helps allow the film to feel even more authentic. The Superman suits all look especially great, as does the aged looking footage involving Affleck playing Reeves in From Here to Eternity and The Adventures of Superman.
Brody has seen much better days than he does here. His character goes through more than a few changes during the film, and he just cannot show the same range that he did when he won Best Actor for The Pianist only four years ago. His expression and demeanour basically stay the same throughout the movie, and because of how sloppy the scenes involving Simo are, his performance really takes a beating. The movie falters totally while in his care, and if there was no real sequences involving Reeves, the film would just not work at all. Thankfully, that is not the case. The supporting cast are fairly solid in their almost minuscule roles, but sadly, Lane and Hoskins feel totally underused. While Lane does an adequate job as always in her limited screen time, Hoskins practically breathes excellence with what he does. In a few instances, he looks, sounds and feels downright evil. I would have enjoyed a lot more of him had there been more for him to do.
But easily the best thing about the entire film is Affleck as George Reeves. We will never see Affleck dawn the cape of the Man of Steel, but we get a great look at what he would look like if he ever had the chance and then some. He is electrifying in the role, and allows his character to grow and evolve properly throughout the entire film (unlike Brody). He may not be on the screen the whole time, but he makes the fascinating Reeves story even greater with his performance. This is definitely the one acting spot that critics have been waiting for from Affleck for years. His delivery of the dialogue is pitch perfect, and when the film gets particularly emotional, he only gets better.
He is the Man of Steel, and more importantly, he is George Reeves.
And I am unsure if this is with all prints of the film, but the one I saw had the boom mike blatantly visible for a good chunk of the film. It was jarringly distracting too.
As an all-around film, Hollywoodland is not all that great (and I really wish that they fought harder for the much better title Truth, Justice and the American Way). The key fictional story is totally off, and the fascinating true story of Reeves just does not feel like it is anywhere near as important as the fictional one. It does feel authentic however, and we will probably never see a better performance out of Affleck. So at least it has that to say for itself.