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Rated 2.99 stars
by 1588 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Hollywood Continues
by Jeffrey Chen

Hollywoodland continues the tradition of Hollywood not being very kind to itself. Movies about the town and about the industry have formed a genre all their own, and collectively they serve as a warning to anyone who might want to get involved. Hollywood cannibalizes its talent -- it squeezes the juices out of its stars, then dumps them on the side of the road after their primary utilities have been exhausted. Those of us who observe the industry might say this is apparent, but it's particularly fascinating that the movies themselves choose to tell their stories this way, as if, by directly confessing, the town can sleep better at night.

The rather broad title of the latest descendant of this Sunset Blvd. line suggests, perhaps, that this is a story shared by many who have been put through the dream factory, but it's specifically about George Reeves (played here by Ben Affleck), the actor who played Superman in the '50s TV series, Adventures of Superman. According to the movie, it was a role he accepted but did not relish; after the show ended, he was unable to find more fulfilling work as an actor. One night, he used a gun to commit suicide. Or did he? Could there have been foul play?

That's where Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) comes in. He's a down-on-his-luck (naturally) private detective with financial and personal family problems who decides to investigate the claim of Reeves's mother that her son was most likely murdered. The movie then crisscrosses between the trail he follows and flashbacks to Reeves's career highlights and lowlights. As the film progressed, though, I began to wonder what the point of this device was, for one half of the movie was easily more fascinating and entertaining than the other.

The story of George Reeves, as it turns out, has all the parts necessary for a good, self-sufficient tragedy. Not only is it a tried-and-true rise-and-fall story, it gains a booster shot of empathy from the performances of Affleck and Diane Lane as Toni Mannix, the wife of MGM boss Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins). Affleck's work is a pleasant surprise, one where his good looks befit his role, while his humorous, ironic charm acts as a cover for pent-up dissatisfaction and sadness. Frankly, I felt it was good enough to carry the whole movie, although the thought occurred to me that if the movie was fully focused on Reeves, the character might've been stretched too thin and Affleck's performance might not have been as effective.

Next to that storyline, though, the detective half of the movie struggles to find its grounding. Brody is fine as Louis, but the path he takes has two functions awkwardly glued together. First, his investigation leads him to several different ideas about what might have really happened to Reeves; second, in order to flesh out the character, Louis is given his own personal dilemma to resolve, but it’s not as interesting as the Reeves story and doesn’t contain a notable connection or parallel to it.

What Louis does learn is exactly how rotten a place Hollywood can be. The movie seems to be far more interested in portraying that point than in actually putting forth its own conclusion about how Reeves died. The ambiguity with which Hollywoodland introduces the mystery is the same as the feeling it concludes with; this doesn't give it any points for being daring, which leaves us with the main concern of how it depicts Hollywood itself. Although the film is a competent retelling of such sad L.A. stories, it doesn't bring any new insight or a unique point-of-view to the tale.

And, finally, if the disease that inflicted old Hollywood continues to affect the lives of its talent to this day, is there a futility to telling these stories while the same machinations go on in the background? With Hollywoodland, Affleck attempts to break out of an acting slump, while Lane returns to a meatier role after being routed to trivial romantic comedies since her Oscar nomination. The same career concerns that plagued Reeves keep swirling anew, creating an irony to the production of these movies which capitalize on past tragedies, become a part of current struggles, and repeat the same issues about an unchanging system.

(Released by Focus Features and rated “R” for language, some violence and sexual content.)

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