September 15, 2006

Hollywoodland

Superb performances are diluted in this overlong, mis-constructed murder-bio of George Reeves, TV's Superman.hollywoodland

Ben Affleck is perfectly cast and offers a wonderfully understated performance as George Reeves, a charming, mildly talented, but old-school handsome actor who died under extremely mysterious circumstances in 1959. The police quickly label Reeves a suicide, and sweep the Reeves case under the carpet. A private detective, Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), trying to stir up some work, convinces Reeves' mother (Lois Smith) to hire him to force the police to consider a murder investigation. Simo's investigation becomes the framework for our discovery of Reeves' story.

In the early fifties, after limited success in feature films, Reeves becomes trapped in two golden cages. His only professional success is The Adventures Of Superman TV show, which has made him so successful he may never be able to find non-Super work again. He falls in love with an original desperate housewife, Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), a wealthy but aging (45 years old?) studio wife. Reeves' youth and charm make Toni feel young again. Toni becomes George's sugar momma, but she ultimately smothers Reeves with her lonliness and fear. While trying to wriggle out of Toni's grasp, Reeves falls in with Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney), a classic mean drunk.

In June 1959, Reeves died from a gunshot wound to the head which could have been suicide, but Simo can piece together motivations for murder with all the principal characters. Did Toni become blinded with jealous rage at Reeves' spurning? DId Toni's Mob-connected studio honcho husband arrange a hit? Did Reeves' crazy "fiancee" Leonore flip out after Reeves threatened to call off their engagement?

As talented as Academy-award winner Adrien Brody is, he cannot salvage his totally unremarkable detective story/dramatic framework device. His investigation, and Simo's barely relevant child-custody subplot, break no new dramatic ground. Obviously, in stories based on real events, you sometimes have to include characters and plot points in order to be true to the story, even if they aren't worth the screen time. That's what makes the Simo detective framework so frustrating: his character, and his investigation, is a completely fictional device. Perhaps the creative team behind Hollywoodland included so much of this dramatic framework, because they felt Reeves' character, or perhaps Ben Affleck the actor, could not carry the dramatic weight of the whole film? It turns out that Affleck is outstanding as Reeves, and his emotional arc feels underserved by his limited screen time. If the Simo plotline had been pared down, and a few more meaty scenes with Affleck and Lane had been included, we might be talking about a Best Picture nominee, and not just a well-deserved Best Actor nod for Affleck. (AMC Burlington)