Starring: Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney
Director: Allen Coulter
Category: Suspense / Drama
This is not the Year of Superman, no matter what Warner Brothers’ publicity department might suggest, and despite the studio’s drastic attempts at re-launching a successful movie franchise, releasing old TV series on DVD and spreading rumors about a possible Lois Lane spin-off, they’d be wise to take advantage of such a perfect marketing spin: director Allen Coulter’s debut film, “Hollywoodland,” which takes a unique look at the famous superhero through the tragic life of one of the many actors who donned the cape. Perhaps best known for his work on the hit HBO drama “The Sopranos,” Coulter’s murder-mystery surrounding the death of the former superhero personality is not only the best Superman-themed film of the year, but it’s also an ideal way to brush up on a little Man of Steel nostalgia.
June 16, 1959: the day that Superman died. Or at least that’s what was going through the minds of most children around the country when Hollywood film actor George Reeves (Ben Affleck) committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. Of course, not everyone is prepared to accept his death as a legitimate suicide, including Reeves’ mother (Lois Smith), who hires private detective Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) to investigate. And as Simo struggles to unfold the mystery in present day, a series of flashbacks help in recounting Reeve’s life as a struggling actor trying to break out in Hollywood. Eventually, Simo narrows it down to three scenarios, including the aforementioned suicide and two possible murder suspects: Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins), general manager at MGM, and Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney), Reeves’ fiancé at the time of his death.
Before he even landed the job as the caped hero on “The Adventures of Superman,” the young Reeves became involved in an open affair with the wife (Diane Lane) of the powerful studio exec. It also probably didn’t help that movie studios back then were complacent with handling business in the same manner as the mafia, so many believe that Mannix hired someone to kill Reeves in a fit of jealousy. Others accredit the dirty deed to Lemmon, who, upon discovering that Reeves no longer planned to marry her, chose to react by sticking a Lugar to his head and pulling the trigger. There are plenty of clues that support both theories, including unreported bruises on his body, the lack of a suicide note and several bullet holes in the floor, but while they all carry some sort of credibility, Coulter leaves it up to the audience to decide which scenario they actually believe.
Unfortunately, while the film appears to be a subscriber of Hollywood noirs like “L.A. Confidential” and “Mulholland Drive,” there’s nothing particularly noirish about it. And while the back-and-forth storytelling certainly doesn’t help the pacing, strong performances from the main cast help to keep it moving along. Affleck is well-cast as the despondent Reeves, while Brody turns in an oft-hilarious performance as the con-turning detective. It’s Robin Tunney’s performance as the acerbic, money-grubbing fiancé that ultimately steals the show, however, and one can only wish that she was given more time to shine. Still, “Hollywoodland” will no doubt entertain moviegoers looking for an engaging mystery (despite its lack of any real closure), and while it may not feature the kind of M. Night Shyamalan-branded twist that today’s generation expects from their suspense flicks, this one lets you pick the ending you like best.
The single-disc release of “Hollywoodland” is a bit of a disappointment, considering the heaps of material that could have been included just on the conspiracy theories behind George Reeves’ death. Instead, the special features simply include three short production featurettes on design and costumes (“Re-Creating Old Hollywood”), the parallel relationship between the two main characters (“Behind the Headlines”), and a brief look at the history of MGM in the early ‘60s (“Hollywood: Then & Now”). Also included are five minutes of deleted scenes and a rather boring (albeit very technical) audio commentary featuring director Allen Coulter.