Hollywoodland (2006)

Ben Affleck and Diane Lane in Hollywoodland (2006)

The Death of Superman

The unexpected death of someone famous often leads to various conspiracies surrounding their sudden demise; you just need to look at the cases of Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe to see this in action. But for me one of the most interesting conspiracies is that of Superman actor George Reeves who at the age of 45 apparently committed suicide, although for years afterwards there have been various claims as to what actually happened. "Hollywoodland" which stars Ben Affleck as Superman actor George Reeves is a dramatization which attempts to look into a few of those conspiracies by combining factual evidence with a fictitious detective to drive the storyline.

Lowly Private Investigator Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) gets an opportunity to make a name for himself when Helen Bessolo asks him to investigate the suspicious death of her son, actor George Reeves (Ben Affleck - Boiler Room). Having died in his bedroom from a single bullet whilst his friends were partying down stairs, police declared it a suicide but Simo discovers there could be more to it than that. And through his investigation he learns about the affair which Reeves had with Toni Mannix (Diane Lane - Must Love Dogs), the wife of ruthless studio chief Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins - Unleashed).

Adrien Brody as Louis Simo in Hollywoodland (2006)

I will admit that I was only ever aware of George Reeves through the occasional summertime re-runs of the 1950's Superman series and it wasn't until "Hollywoodland" came out that I became aware that not only had the actor committed suicide at a relatively young age but in such mysterious surroundings. I have to say that despite a lack of knowledge "Hollywoodland" brings the events to life surrounding his death in such away it sparked an interest to find out more, not something many movies achieve. Plus by just focusing on the mysterious death and not creating trying to be a George Reeves biopic it ends up more engaging.

What I do find clever is that director Allen Coulter and writer Paul Bernbaum have managed to merge a fictitious set up with true events in such a believable manner that unless you knew you would actually think that Louis Simo was in fact a private detective who was investigating the case of Reves' death at the time. It works brilliantly and through the character of Simo we get to see the facts, the missed evidence, the various affairs and also the various different conspiracies such as if it was his girlfriend who killed him in an argument, an angry studio executive who needed to silence him or whether it was just depression from having a failing career. It certainly makes for an engrossing and educational look into how Hollywood worked during the 50s where the studio chiefs basically ran everything.

What is also interesting is that although "Hollywoodland" shows you the evidence and various fictitious re-enactments of what may or may not have happened it never really declares an allegiance to one. This for me is clever as it allows you to make up your own mind or even see why the facts for various conspiracies are pretty strong. Did I feel that by the end of "Hollywoodland" I knew the truth, well I felt that I knew all about the circumstantial evidence which would make the various conspiracies believable but it left me wanting to know more and that for me is good as it sparked my interest.

Despite "Hollywoodland" having a strong fictitious element the recreating of the actual events as well as various pivotal parts of Reeves's life is fascinating. We get to see how Reeves fell in love with the beautiful Toni Mannix and despite the fact she was married to studio manager Eddie Mannix they ended up having a long and well documented affair. But we also see how he got his most famous role as Superman, how it affected his life from never making it as a great movie star and that being in a flat character caused him to feel depressed especially as he ended up struggling to get further roles after the series ended. This is all interesting stuff and the way the 50's Hollywood has been recreated is magical. "Hollywoodland" has to be one of my favourite movies for recreating an accurate Hollywood from the golden age.

Performance wise well I've never been a huge fan of Ben Affleck but not only does he come across feasibly as George Reeves but he also manages to convey the feelings that Reeves had over his failed career and the fact that his affair with Toni lead him to basically being a kept man. It is certainly one of Affleck's strongest performances and much credit goes to him for demonstrating how not to act but how to become a character, which I am sure, was not such an easy task when it came to a well known figure. Combining magnificently with Affleck is Diane Lane who radiates the golden age of Hollywood as Toni Mannix. Admittedly I am a huge fan of Diane Lane but her performance in "Hollywoodland" really does hit home the fact that she is an actress who can not only take on any role but also that she has a little bit of Golden Hollywood about her.

Combining with both Affleck and Lane you have Bob Hoskins as studio boss Eddie Mannix as well as Robin Tunney who plays Leonore Lemmon Reeves's girlfriend at the time of his death. Both Hoskins and Tunney do equally as well as Affleck and Lane when it comes to recreating their characters to be realistic people from the Hollywood scene in the 50's. But it is the characters which are the most interesting and in Eddie you do get a sense that you had someone who was ruthless enough to order the killing of a troublesome star if need be.

Then of course you have Adrien Brody who has the task of playing the fictitious character of private detective Louis Simo. Brody does incredibly well of creating a character who has all the sliminess of a detective that is willing to do anything to further his own cause, including preying on the grieving mother of George Reeves, but also a character who similarly to Reeves is struggling with a career which is not living up to his own expectations and which impacts on his estranged wife and son. It's a very good performance and Brody manages to bring those facts to life, such as the missed bullet holes in Reeves's bedroom, in a way which doesn't feel cheap or too cliche.

What this all boils down to is that overall "Hollywoodland" is a very good drama which also has the added benefit that the more times you watch it the more little subtleties you pick up, such as things going on in the back ground which you don't notice the first time round. It's wonderfully lead by the trio of Affleck, Land and Brody which is made all the better by strong supporting performances and really does achieve recreating a lot of the magic from 50's Hollywood. But more importantly it gives you the facts into the mysterious death of George Reeves and leaves you to make up your own mind or go in search for more information.