by Josh Boris
As I noted last week, the summer blockbusters are quietly slipping away to be replaced with a bevy of more introspective pieces and Oscar hopefuls. This can be seen in the fact that not one, but two neo-noir films were released within a week of each other.
Allen Coulter’s “Hollywoodland” and Brian De Palma’s “The Black Dahlia” both examine unsolved Hollywood mysteries of the ‘40s and ‘50s with a heavy dose of spin and conjecture, and both strive for the critical acclaim that other neo-noirs such as “L.A. Confidential” and “Memento” received. “Hollywoodland” is the first offering, and it provides an entertaining, though sometimes bumpy, ride.
“Hollywoodland” presents us with a dual plotline, as we watch the events leading up to the death of George Reeves (Ben Affleck), TV’s original Superman, and the investigation by seedy, yet dedicated, private eye Louis Simo (Adrian Brody). The death of Superman originally appeared to be a suicide, fueled by the cancellation of his show and his inability to find work, but as the story unfolds, Simo discovers a tangled web of mobster movie bosses, jilted lovers and mysteriously suppressed information and suspects foul play.
The movie is too long, too convoluted and some might say too unsatisfying. Certain plot points are only minimally addressed and could have been cut out, while others are addressed for much too long. The side plot of Simo’s estranged wife and child (which is compared to the rise and fall of Reeves) seems inconsequential when compared to the larger plot, and while it offers some character development, it slows down the movie too much to be justified. While I appreciated the fact that Coulter was confident enough to leave the movie open-ended, others expecting everything to be wrapped up nicely will be disappointed. Although it offers multiple solutions to the mystery, it never points to one and definitively says “this is what happened.” However, these problems are only minor detractors from an overall enjoyable and intriguing film whose power comes from the examination of the multi-faceted Reeves and his decline.
The acting is phenomenal. I never thought I’d say this, but Ben Affleck mixes charm and quiet desperation to form the perfect picture of a washed-up actor grappling for a dignified comeback. Does this sound familiar? Actually, Affleck appears to be playing himself: the promising young actor of “Goodwill Hunting” who slid into drivel such as “Daredevil” and “Gigli.” It is perhaps this splash of reality that makes him so convincing as the Reeves character.
On top of Affleck’s performance, Diane Lane is superb as Toni Mannix, the wife of MGM head Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins), who is allowed by her goonish husband to play sugar-momma to Reeves. As usual, Brody turns in an intense performance as the private detective whose sometimes-shady motives give way to a dedicated desire to solve the mystery and to fix the analogous problems in his own life.
While the film certainly doesn’t give the breadth of intrigue, corruption, and mystery offered by “L.A. Confidential,” it is nice to see directors attempting to achieve that combination of gritty thrill and intelligence in their work. I believe better films will come along, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Academy gives a couple nods towards “Hollywoodland” come February.