BY PATRICIA DRAZNIN
Hollywoodland is a story within a story. At its core is a George Reeves biopic (played by Ben Affleck) about the leading-man wannabe who accidentally landed the TV role of Superman and became a legend for all the wrong reasons. The film is an open-ended treatise on Reeves’s Hollywood years. It reveals his romantic arrangement with Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), the wife of movie mogul Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins), and explores alternative explanations for Reeves’s tragic young death, which was declared a suicide.
Reeves’s story is presented through a fictional character. We enter 1959 Tinseltown by way of a private eye named Louis Simo, deftly played by Adrien Brody. I happen to like Brody, especially in The Pianist. He is always convincing. In Hollywoodland he convinces me that a scrawny underhanded private eye is a force to be reckoned with. But his screen domination makes the Reeves story recede into the background—an interesting technique if the front story is as fascinating as the backstory, like DiCaprio and Winslet in Titanic. But Simo overstays his value, and like a mild dose of Kryptonite, he starts to wear us down.
In spite of its shortcomings, including 126 minutes that could possibly be scaled to 110, the Allen Coulter film delivers. Drawing its title from the original Hollywood moniker, Hollywoodland draws us back to the 1950s—if not through dialogue, then certainly through its fashion and scenery. And Affleck’s performance is more like his acting debut, presenting a plausible vision of the man behind the Man of Steel. Hollywoodland is a glimpse into a glamorous, exclusive, and vicious society. And ultimately arouses a little sympathy for those driven to finding fame and fortune in an unforgiving town. B-