Adrien Brody (The Pianist, The Thin Red Line) plays a ’50s Hollywood detective investigating the mysterious death of actor George Reeves, played by Ben Affleck (Gone Girl, The Town). Hollywoodland is based on the true story of Reeves, who struggled to claim fame on the big screen but ended up finding it as the star of television’s The Adventures of Superman. Brody and Affleck give solid performances, both playing men aspiring and failing to become more than they are. The film balances their two stories well, following Brody in the present and Affleck through a series of flashbacks, trying to answer the still controversial question: did Reeves kill himself, or was he murdered?
Paul Bernbaum’s screenplay sets up a compelling mystery with interesting suspects. Diane Lane (Rumble Fish, Under the Tuscan Sun) is a stand-out as a powerful studio boss’s wife who shares a secret love life with Reeves. Great chemistry makes Lane’s and Affleck’s courtship scenes among my favorite in the film. Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Mermaids) contributes an effortlessly sinister performance as Lane’s husband, a man who’s perfectly okay with his wife’s adultery — but only so long as her lover makes her happy.
Hollywoodland is very good for its first two-thirds. The characters, as written and performed, are more than enough to keep you engaged with the storytelling. It’s also fun to see recreations of ritzy, old Hollywood party clubs and a few scenes on the set of the Superman TV show, including one in which a crew-hand lets loose a rope that sends ‘flying’ Superman crashing to the ground. In a great moment, Ben Affleck groans, slowly stands, and says, “I’d like to thank the Academy…” Understandably, the movie is beholden to real life events, handicapping the film’s ability to deliver any sort of triumphant ending, but if you’ll permit this period-piece detective story to transform itself into a character drama, you might enjoy this movie that reminds us to be grateful for what we have, while we have it.
With Lois Smith and Kathleen Robertson. Directed by Allen Coulter.