HOLLYWOODLAND directed by Allen Coulter, written by Paul Bernbaum, w/ Adrien Brody, Ben Affleck, Diane Lane and Bob Hoskins. 126 minutes. A Miramax/Alliance Atlantis release. Opens Friday (September 8). For venues and times, see Movies, page 139. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
Hollywoodland uses an investigation-and-flashback structure to examine and speculate on the apparent suicide of George Reeves, the actor who played Superman on television in the 1950s.
Writer/producer Paul Bernbaum and director Allen Coulter have extensive TV experience, Coulter being a specialist in high-end episodics like The Sopranos and Sex And The City, and they do understand how to keep the structure in place as they cut between the life of Reeves (Ben Affleck) and the investigation by Adrien Brody's slightly seedy private eye, Louis Simo.
With its impressive period recreation and striking supporting cast, Hollywoodland has a lot going for it, including Affleck, who reminds us that he's actually a pretty good actor when he works at it.
But the filmmakers' decision to structure the story as an investigation means Reeves is killed off at the start, so there's no suspense about his fate. The personal life of the investigator isn't in itself interesting - which isn't a knock against Brody, whose performance is excellent. It's not an unusual structure, but here it tends to detract from the story of sexual power politics involving Reeves and the woman who kept him, Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), the wife of MGM studio executive Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins).
You could say that the investigative structure is less a way of leading us into a lurid though probably not unusual story of the town and time than a way of holding its central emotions at arm's length: Reeves's self-loathing at being a rich woman's boy toy, and Toni's increasing resentment of the inevitable ravages of time (and they've really worked the makeup so that Lane looks older than 41). Those - not the investigator's kid's distress over Superman killing himself - are the interesting elements of the story.
Still, Brody and Molly Parker make that section of the film very watchable. And, yes, it was shot here, mostly in Oakville, of all places. You can, if bored, have fun playing Spot The Canadian Supporting Actor, and there are lots of them.
I largely enjoyed Hollywoodland, particularly its performances. But the filmmakers seem to have had trouble finishing the picture. It's as if they shot several possible endings - the scene in the agent's office would have worked nicely, the home movie of Reeves would have been fine, then there are three or four others - and used them all.