Hollywoodland (2006) Allen Coulter
Production Budget: $14 million
Worldwide Gross: around $17 million
Hollwoodland is a docudrama about the real life death of Superman television actor George Reeves (here played by Ben Affleck). Reeves death was cleared a suicide by the LAPD. Reeves mother goes to private investigator Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) to find enough evidence to re-open the case. Simo finds inconsistencies in the case as well as many would be suspects.
Hollywoodland is kind of a cross breed of a “true Hollywood story“ with Reeves‘ story and a film noir with Simo as the hard on his luck private eye. I can see why the death of Reeves can make for a good conspiracy crime story. Reeves was found bruised from an assault and there were other bullet holes in the bedroom where Reeves was found. There were also aspects of Reeves‘ life which would seem like choice “juicy gossip“ on the surface. What is strange is that when we actually dig deeper into this gossip, what should be sleazy Hollywood dirt becomes rather tame.
I’ll give you an example. If you heard George Reeves was having an affair with the wife of a big wig at MGM you might think that is really scandalous or there is a huge motive for the husband to kill Reeves. But then in the movie the other woman Toni (played by Diane Lane) explains that her husband has a woman on the side and he is perfectly fine with her having a relationship as well. They even go out together in public. You end up thinking the whole affair is pretty normal; well, Hollywood normal.
When you get right down to it, the movie doesn’t make a good case for any of the “suspects“. Again, you feel quite the opposite (or at least I did). SPOILERS if you care. You don’t think Toni did it because she was more an crying emotional shut in due to the break up rather than a woman in a murderous rage. Neither do you feel Toni’s husband Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins) is the type of person capable of pulling the trigger (or hiring others to murder). Mannix is perfectly fine with blacklisting Reeves in Hollywood and killing his career and spirit rather than hiring some goon to put a bullet in him. Neither do you feel Reeves‘ then ex-fiance Leonore Lemmon (Robin Turney) would have done it. The movie implies she was a gold digger and upon Reeves breaking off the marriage she murdered him for the money. But then the movie goes right back around to admit Reeves wasn’t worth much of anything at that point in his career and Lemmon didn’t give a crap about the break up. I’ve never seen a true Hollywood style film like this where all the muck is cleaned up and the suspects practically cleared. Compare this with Auto Focus which was about the dark side of Hogan’s Heroes actor Bob Crane. After seeing that you feel like you want to take a long shower and take off a layer of skin with some pumice.
When you get down to the nitty gritty, the sad story of George Reeves is of a typecast actor. The general feeling was George Reeves had the potential to be the next Clark Gable. He got stuck doing a crappy kids show which, while it gave him temporary fame, didn’t pay that well and killed his legitimate career. It is a sad story for sure but unfortunately a dime a dozen in Hollywood and not something you can build an entire movie on.
I haven’t mentioned Simo’s story up to this point but even compared to the tame Reeves‘ storyline I could not care about this one. Simo comes off as too slimey even by antihero film noir characters. You see him drag good people through the mud just for a couple of bucks and you never buy the change in his character that he all of a sudden cares about uncovering the truth of any of it. We are not told enough about the character to really justify his world weary attitude and of what we do see turns the audience off.
Hollywoodland tries to do two different stories but ends up making both mediocre. The real life mystery of George Reeves of course doesn’t have a satisfying resolution and the audience won’t even find the mystery all that engaging. The private investigator plot is similarly unsatisfying and the main character is not likable enough to get invested. The acting is all around solid. Adrien Brody really tries as Simo but you wish he had a meatier role to work with. Ben Affleck gives a very good performance at a time when the public was more than ready to label his career dead. The production is well done and there are moments when you really do feel for George Reeves. Hollywoodland is an okay movie, but there isn’t enough of any of the elements to make it worthwhile for others to check it out.