Admittedly, I love summer movies. I love the big action and movies that are so bad they loop back around to being good just because you can laugh at them. But like any good junk food, eventually it starts to back up on you and you want something more.
That’s why movies like Hollywoodland are so welcome. No big action pieces. No frenetic cameras. No one-liners. Scenes that don’t look like they belonged in a music video. Just actors and a real plot, a mystery that takes its time to wrap you up in it and doesn’t rush you along. They show you things and leave it up to the viewer to draw conclusions, rather than spelling it out and smacking you over the head with it.
“Relaxing” and “relieving” probably aren’t two adjectives normally used to describe movies, but that’s what comes to mind after Hollywoodland. It’s a relief to get back to movies like this, a welcome reprival from the summer mindset.
Hollywoodland is a movie for those who question every celebrity death, who suspect something sinister lurks under the glitz and glamour we see on screen. The suicide of George Reeves, TV’s Superman, is one of Hollywood’s most famous. Was it a suicide? Or murder? That’s what Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) is hired to find out. Unfortunately, this is one case that people want to keep closed, and Louis is going to make some of them pretty mad the way he keeps prying.
Of course, that makes him sound like a saint, like he’s searching for truth, justice, and the American way. He’s not. Louis weasels the case out of a friend of his, and takes it for the money. He’s not particularly interested in whether it was a suicide or murder, but in making headlines that will keep him on the case. But slowly he gets drawn into it, putting together the pieces, hypothesizing different ways Reeves’s death could’ve happened.
Diane Lane and Bob Hoskins also put in some fantastic performances as Toni Mannix and her husband, Ed, respectively. Ed is the vice president of MGM, a studio head ruling with an iron fist. Toni takes George as a lover, making him a kept man. Her and Ed’s marriage is less a marriage and more a close friendship, a partnership.
Lane is absolutely luminous. She does a magnificent job as Toni, who is one minute a kind and caring lover, the next a jealous one. We’re never exactly sure of her motives, either. Does she just want a kept man? Or does she really love him?
But the person who likely benefits the most from this movie is Ben Affleck. Yes, I’m throwing in my hat with everybody else on this one. Affleck needed something after movies like Gigli and Surviving Christmas, something with which he could get us critics to shut up and take back his career. This is it.
Affleck pulls a wonderful turn as George Reeves, the man who was Superman to millions and yet was still only a man. He wanted to be taken seriously as an actor, but a job he took simply to make some money suddenly typecast him and gave him all sorts of fame and responsibility he didn’t want. No matter how he tried, he can’t change how people see him, and it’s unfortunate. You can’t help but feel truly sorry for him.
The movie switches seamlessly between Louis’s current investigation and Reeves’s life, from the time he meets Toni up until the party where he ended his life. As we learn what Louis does, the case is made for both a murder and a suicide. As for which it is, well…that’s up to the viewer to figure out. People are going to have different theories after this, and whether any are “right,” it’ll certainly make for some interesting discussions.
I went into Hollywoodland expecting to come out depressed. Instead I came out feeling relieved and rejuvenated. Yes, it is possible to make an aesthetically excellent drama that makes you think, entertains you, and doesn’t put you into depression. Yes, it is possible to make a movie without action scenes and montages. Yes, it is possible that Hollywoodland should be on your short list of movies to see in the theater. It’s two hours well spent.
From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies. This is one of the reviews I originally wrote during that time.