Friday, December 08, 2006

Film review - Hollywoodland

The film posters hark back to the golden age of Hollywood, with glamorous-looking actors in monochrome, and convey the sense of some illicit love affair. There have been a couple of such historical pictures out lately, such as The Black Dahlia. Hollywoodland takes as its starting point the death by suicide of actor George Reeves, first inhabitant of the Superman suit on TV, and an investigation into that death by a private investigator. But it also manages to examine the whole studio system through focussing on Reeves and his relationship with the wife of a studio boss.

When we first encounter the detective Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), we see him living in a slightly down-at-heel apartment block. A customer (Larry Cedar), obsessed with the idea that his wife is having an affair, keeps paying Simo to spy on her, though the detective insists that the man is mistaken. Later, Simo's family - his estranged wife Laurie (Molly Parker) and son Evan - is introduced. The news of Reeves's suicide is first mentioned, and its shocking effect on Simo's son and other children to whom Superman was real. Simo is hired by Reeves's mother, who insists that there is something not right about her son's suicide: she is convinced that he was murdered. She's something of an unpleasant character, her prime motivation being her conviction that her son deserves a statue. Ever the publicist, Simo begins his quest in a blaze of flashbulb light, but finds himself becoming interested in the case for its own sake.

Scenes flash back to Reeves' (Ben Affleck) early career, and his first encounter with Toni Mannix (Diane Lane). He's a struggling actor, she's the wife of a studio head, Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins). They become lovers, and he her kept man. Simo's investigation is also entwined with his weird client's obsession, and scenes are woven with Reeves' life both during his Superman career (a funny but shocking scene where the actor entertains a crowd of children with Superman foiling some bad guys and is asked by a small boy carrying a loaded gun if he can shoot Superman stands out), and afterwards during his attempts to shake off the Superman tag and do real work.

The film doesn't attempt to solve the mystery, and really seems to be about Simo's realisation that he is not a good detective, and that his willingness to take money for jobs where there is nothing to investigate can hurt other people badly.

The actors are very good, particularly Affleck and Lane. The film also confirms my opinion that Ben Affleck is an excellent supporting actor, but is no good as a lead. I very much enjoyed Bob Hoskins' turn, very subtly and deftly played, and Robin Tunney as Reeve's new girlfriend. Anyone who finds Adrien Brody annoying should enjoy the several scenes in which his character gets severely beaten-up.

It's an interesting film, with solid period detail, excellent performances, and an interesting story. It makes a good companion piece to LA Confidential, in that Simo runs up against the same studio schemers and fixers as Exley and White do in the earlier film, but in Hollywoodland, the studios and actors are given a more prominent role. If there's a real weakness it's that the film really refuses to condemn the shady practices employed, and invites the viewers to draw their own conclusions.



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