Dir: Allen Coulter. US.2006. 126mins.
A noir thriller set in 1950s Los Angeles which blendsfact, fiction and speculation, Hollywoodland is so rich in detail, character and atmospherethat it's easy to forgive its narrative failings. This well-crafted, well-castfilm which marks the feature debut of TV veteran Allen Coulter, should stir upplenty of media attention and generate some respectable specialised grosses forFocus domestically and Miramax internationally. It has its world premiere atVenice before a Sept 8 domestic opening.
The film's chief sellingpoint is its sexy trio of stars - the ever-capable AdrienBrody as a two-bit private eye, the dazzling Diane Lane as an ageing Hollywoodwife and, in a comeback of sorts, Ben Affleck who put on 28lbs and a prostheticnose to play bruised beefcake George Reeves.
Press coverage will alsofocus on the little-known true story of Reeves and the insight the film offersinto Hollywood's dark side, then and now. Critical response will be generallyfavourable, although it will suffer in comparison to modern classics of the LAcrime genre - notably Chinatown (set in 1937) and LA Confidential (also thefifties). One of the first prestige films out of the gate in the upcomingawards season, it stands its likeliest chance for recognition in technicalcategories.
The film opens with thedeath of Reeves, found shot in the head in bed in his Hollywood Hills home onJune 16, 1959. Reeves had a small speaking part in Gone With The Wind and showed promise asan actor in Mark Sandrich's So Proudly We Hail! (1943), but he was unable to build on thatmomentum. He gained fame only when he took the roles of Superman and Clark Kentin the cheap Adventures Of Superman TV serial in 1952.
The official verdict issuicide, but Reeves' mother Helen Bessolo (Smith)thinks otherwise and employs the services of private detective Louis Simo (Brody) to investigate the case.
Simo is hardly the ideal man for the job, earning a meagre living validating infidelities for suspicioushusbands (think Chinatown). Nor ishis personal life much better: he's sleeping with his personal assistant(Caroline Dhavernas) and in the middle of a divorcefrom wife Laurie (Parker) who has custody of their young son.
But Simotakes the Reeves case seriously and it doesn't take much digging to discoverseveral suspicious circumstances around the death. Like the fact that Reeves' fiance, ambitious starlet LeonoreLemmon (Tunney), only called the police 45 minutesafter finding the body. Or that there are two bullet holes in the floor ofReeves' bedroom which have been overlooked. Or that Reeves' former long-timelover Toni Mannix (Lane) is married to MGM generalmanager Edgar Mannix (Hoskins), a man with shadyconnections and a powerful grip over Hollywood.
The film offers severalalternative scenarios for the death itself, not least of which is suicide. Wesee Reeves in flashback greedy for success as a movie star, rapidly embracing alife of luxury courtesy of Toni and Edgar, but sinking deep into depressionwhen he takes the Superman job andrealises that he has typecast himself out of a film career. The film offersfascinating insight into the new age of TV, the way Hollywood has always usedthe media and controlled information, and the quest for respect which consumesand destroys Reeves.
The fictional Simo character and his degeneration throughout the film toa nervous wreck is less compelling. Although Brody isas intense and engaged as always, his character acts principally as a device tounlock the Reeves/Mannix drama, while his ownredemptive story arc is transparent and clunky.
Indeed, to some extent thescreenplay by first-timer Paul Bernbaum is a house ofcards with a whiff of shaggy dog story about it. There are no answers here andthe open-ended conclusion will prove disappointing to noir aficionados waitingfor a big "reveal".
Best of all in the film arethe supporting characters: well-drawn Hollywood types like Art Weissman, Reeves' loyal and stuttering agent beautifullyplayed by Jeffrey DeMunn; or Howard Strickling, MGM's PR guru who concealed a thousand crimes(played by Joe Spano); or Mannixhimself, portrayed with gangster-like authority by Bob Hoskins, whose love forhis wife does not mean he does not take mistresses nor allow her to takelovers.
Coulter does a great jobcreating a sense of time and place and he is helped immeasurably by JonathanFreeman's rich colour cinematography and Marcelo Zarvos'predictable but effective noir jazz score. If the showbiz sharks on show areuniformly repellent and Reeves' failed career hardly the stuff of classictragedy (think Evelyn Mulwray), the film at leastremains alluring for its seductive portrait of 1950s Hollywood and all theambition, vanity and violence it bred.
Back Lot Pictures
J Miles Dale