A review of “Hollywoodland” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for violence and language

Run Time: 2 hours, 6 minutes

 

 

This noirish detective drama transcends its clumsy title and proves itself a respectable period piece.

Baby-boomers fondly recall the derring-do of TV’s “Superman”, who was faster than a speeding bullet and leaped tall buildings in a single bound.

But less is known about enigmatic George Reeves, the beleaguered actor who battled to break away from the long shadow cast by his popular superhero.

Reeves’ death in 1959 was ruled a suicide; he was said to be despondent over a stalled movie career and shot himself during an evening at home with friends.

With crowded suspicions – murder or suicide? -- washed-up P.I. Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) determines to unravel the truth behind Reeves’ death. He greases palms all over town, digging into the lives and loves of the man who would be Superman.

Well-crafted flashbacks chart Reeves’ (Ben Affleck) mercurial rise and fall. As a bit player he catches the eye of MGM executive wife Toni Mannix (Diane Lane) and turns lover cum boy-toy, kept in sumptuous style that affords him cash and connections.

Toni’s patronizing and powerful hubby Eddie (Bob Hoskins) paves the way for Reeves to land the TV gig that is his jumping off point to overnight sensation. Simo’s snooping reveals an uglier truth, a stale affair gone south, jealousy, betrayal and dissatisfaction. Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned.

The mystery deepens with Simo’s each and every interview; a tangled web of deception and greed. In other words what classic Hollywood is all about.

Brody is exemplary, every bit the actor’s actor. Ditto Hoskins and Lane, in a courageous performance that calls for her to age urgently and unattractively.

Affleck is hit and miss, lacking the depth to convey the turmoil beneath the caped crusader yet looking every inch the suave and debonair male ingénue.

Costumes and locations are quintessential 50s chic; this one is worth a look.