Review by Paul Stathakis | 2006

Hollywoodland good but not super

Few people recognize his name but those who do best remember George Reeves as Superman.  Reeves was an actor who slowly worked his way into show business.  He accepted supporting roles in films like “Gone with the Wind” (1939) and “From Here to Eternity” (1953).  Winning the part of Superman in a 1950s television series (“Adventures of Superman”) was perhaps the best and worst thing that ever happened to Reeves.  Countless children admired him for his bravery and superhero abilities.  He may not have had the proper physique for the role but he was blessed with the face of a movie star.  Each night, children would rush in front of their television to watch the Man of Steal fight off villains and do what he did best: save the day.

On June 16, 1959, following the cancellation of his Superman series, Reeves traded in his red cape and outfit for a pistol.  The papers reported Reeves’ death as an act of suicide.  He was found dead in his Hollywood Hills home.  “Hollywoodland” re-visits Reeves’ ill-fated career and questions the mysteries surrounding the actor’s tragic death.

Adrien Brody stars as Louis Simo, a private investigator who is hired by Reeves’ grieving mother, Helen Bessolo (Lois Smith), to investigate her son’s bizarre death.  Simo soon discovers that a sizzling affair Reeves had with Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), the wife of MGM studio executive Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins), could bring him closer to the truth.  In the style of a classic investigator, Simo risks a great deal to get answers.  “Hollywoodland” is based on a true story but like Oliver Stone’s “JFK” (1991), it presents an investigation with speculative conclusions.  If you’re looking for answers as to what really happened to Reeves, a simple search on the internet could give you the answer.  The film, for the most part, is masterful in the way it depicts a grainy side of the Golden era but it provides viewers with no definite answers.

One of my college professors told me that Marilyn Monroe was his favorite actress of all time.  He used “The Seven Year Itch” (1955) as example to draw his point.  Not only did he claim it was her best film but that it confirmed that Monroe was a beautiful blonde actress who could really act (critics often believed that Monroe was not proficient actress).  “Hollywoodland” is similar in the sense that it showcases Ben Affleck’s abilities as an actor.  After being harshly criticized for appearing in a series of box-office failures, Affleck makes a comeback by turning in a flawless performance as an aging actor battling the pitfalls of the movie industry.  This is a crucial role for Affleck and it shows what a formidable actor he can be when dealt the right part.  His portrayal of Reeves not only bares a haunting quality but is one of the year’s biggest surprises.  Adrien Brody and Diane Lane also deliver stellar performances and it should come as no surprise if each actor receives a nomination for their work in “Hollywoodland.”

Reeves’ death was very controversial in 1959.  At the time, colleagues and close friends of the actor believed he was murdered.  Simo examines the case by feeding off of these assumptions.  At first, he merely works to urn his buck but later becomes far too involved in the case to think about money. “Keep your check,” says Simo in one of the film’s more powerful moments.

“Hollywoodland” is a personal story about one detective’s struggle for redemption and truth at a time where deception laid buried beneath a picture-perfect image of glamour.  Simo learns a great deal about Reeves and the investigation helps him with his own life.  There is a scene in which Simo confronts his son who, disappointed by Reeves’ death, set his Superman outfit on fire.  The little boy, like many other children of that era, felt betrayed by Reeves’ death.  Like the real case, “Hollywoodland” closes on a cold intriguing note.


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