Rated: R for strong sexual content, graphic violence, and graphic language.
Genre: Drama Biography Crime Mystery Thriller
Directed By: Allen Coulter
Running Time: 2:06
Review by: Felix Vasquez Jr.
Review Date: 9/20/07
Special Features:
Commentary by Director Allen Coulter
Deleted Scenes
"Recreating Old Hollywood" featurette
"Behind the Headlines" featurette
"Hollywood Then and Now" featurette

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On June 16, 1959, George Reeves committed suicide; which was then later thought to be and is still heavily debated as a murder. This death was important to many people for the simple fact that it was the end of a beloved icon, and one of the earliest people to bring Superman to life. Reeves is also one of the earliest to help fuel the alleged Superman Curse, a series of coincidences later touted and tagged as a black mark on the folks who played Superman, for the sake of selling books. Is it a curse that brought about such bad ends to these men who played Superman? I say no. It was merely a bunch of coincidences that lent credence to the term “Shit happens.” George Reeves, and his apparent suicide is still debated as a murder, and “Hollywoodland” is a partly fictionalized account of the investigation that proceeded after the death of the tortured actor.

Much like “Gods & Monsters,” writer Paul Bernbaum bases his story mostly in the arena of speculation and fabrication, but thankfully that’s not an actual indicator of the quality here. Coulter focuses his film on two separated but rather paralleled narratives. It chronicles the rise and fall of George Reeves leading to his inevitable suicide, which also feature Reeves’ affair with a studio heads’ wife, meanwhile PI Louis is enlisted to investigate Reeves’ suicide being forced to deal with his fractured family, and his son’s near homicidal response to Superman’s suicide. “Hollywoodland” is an immaculate production with just all out top notch production qualities. One of the interesting aspects to note is Ben Affleck’s rather strong performance veering away from his usual mediocrity, here.

As George Reeves he barely looks like him, but with Affleck’s often interesting mannerisms and charisma that mirrored Reeves, looks simply aren’t an important factor. Affleck is in pure form here, and as Reeves he’s just a banner performer. “Hollywoodland” isn’t just about the impact George Reeves once had on the American public, but what type of effect Superman had and still has on men and women alike. The death of Reeves and the subsequent announcement proved the character’s power, and the unfortunate circumstances would be a stain in the Superman canon forever.  

Whether it was his own fault or someone else’s for setting these unattainable goals is never Coulter thankfully also explores our obsession with pop culture and our inability to distinguish fantasy from reality, and the all too grim reminder of it really does act as one of the most powerful moments in the film. Most of all though Coulter attempts to delve into the psyche of this man who wanted desperately to be Clark Gable or Gary Cooper, and simply refused to settle for anything less. explored, but Reeves is sympathetic while also being rather sad in his skin. He’s confident and charismatic, but he’s barely looked at as a marketable actor. After Superman, he finds that he can’t be taken seriously even more which is also a possible doing of his lover Toni Mannix, who Bernbaum alludes was a purposeful deed to keep Reeves in her control.

Ben Affleck is just powerful here and gives the best performance of his career, and while he’s never identical to Reeves, he embodies this man enough to help us forget that. Lane pulls off the older lover Toni without fault constantly embodying this insecure woman who couldn’t bear to let Reeves grow as an actor lest he find other means of fame beyond her. Of course most of what occurs is simply speculation with all examples being explored, all possible motives pinpointed, and a satisfying story that comes out of all the narratives and sub-plots. It’s not intended on convincing us on one resolution, nor does it try to re-invent the wheel on the investigation, it just gives us different theories and let’s us do the rest. In the end, it’s perfectly clear. Maybe it was conspiracy. Maybe a jilted lover. Maybe a mob boss. Or maybe… just maybe, George Reeves was a sad person who had aspirations that were never met, and experienced the worst of humanity. Occam’s Razor.

One of the true downfalls of this potential masterpiece was the often weak sub-plot with Brody’s Louis Simo mirroring Reeves’ own potential death in many ways. Though the character does possess a true importance to the film, and Brody does what he can with this individual, the subplot with Simo anxiously tries to become the central plot and seems to constantly be battling for the primary focus. We jump back and forth from Reeves’ own life to Louis’ search for the clues, and we’re constantly left with a flat path that’s hardly ever suspenseful, nor can it keep up with the drama that Reeves’ own sub-plot injected, and in the end though Bernbaum struggles to add a very intense parallel, we’re met with slim to no rewards with symbolism or allegories. Bernbaum’s attempted dichotomy fails, and Brody is sadly misused in what could and should have been a much more compelling character.

About as speculatory as “JFK,” Coulter’s depiction of the suicide
case of George Reeves won’t convince folks, but it’s a very good film, nonetheless. As a Superman fanatic, I’d love to believe someone murdered him, but some people are just miserable, and Reeves was a sad example of that. Strong ensemble performances, tight direction, and a stand out from Affleck make this an excellent revisiting of an old Hollywood case.



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