On June 16th, 1959, Superman shot himself. George Reeves, actor of the popular 1950's television series, went upstairs from a party, put a gun to his head, and pulled the trigger.
At least that is the official story.
Speculation has surrounded the death of Reeves for nearly fifty years, as a variety of evidence suggests that the man may have been murdered. While his "suicide" was attributed to depression over a failed career and the inability to breakout of his Superman typecasting, his career was beginning to pick up once again. "Superman" was being revived, and he had just begun filming scenes in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." He was to be married in three days. Most people also claim they could never see him killing himself. In addition, the physical evidence is sketchy - the shell casing was found under his dead body, other bullet holes were found in the walls and floor, and no one called the police for nearly 45 minutes.
This brings us to "Hollywoodland," a dramatized version of the events which examines both the actor himself (played wonderfully by Ben Affleck) and the private investigator (Adrien Brody) who opposes the official determination that the death was suicide. While the movie is essentially a film noir murder mystery, the intriguing premise unfortunately lacks a plot worthwhile of a feature length film.
The movie should have been called "The Death of Superman" to be more powerful, but studio executives must have decided to go with the boring "Hollywoodland" instead because the film is... pretty damn boring. While there are parts that are effective, the pieces are drawn out and don't necessarily work together. The movie focuses too much on the investigator and not enough on the plot; he never really discovers anything other than what he wants to. There is no development of a murder case, or much excitement; part of this is a result of the real facts, but done right this movie could have been quite effective.
The acting, however, is quite good. Brody is pretty good in the lead, though this is certainly not his most interesting of performances. As the investigator, his character is almost too flawed to be liked, or, at least, the movie spends too much time dwelling on his flaws. On the other hand, Affleck is terrific as the iconic Reeves; this is his best performance in quite a while. Affleck has a tendency to be Affleck no matter what he's in; here, he becomes unrecognizable without changing his looks, and once again proves why Affleck keeps getting jobs. He may have several misses before he nails something on the head, but you know he'll strike his target eventually.
Still, a good performance from Affleck is not enough to save the movie. The film is generally of high quality, but its pacing is slow and the plot meandering and generally pointless. This movie would have worked better had it devoted all of its time to Reeves, rather than split the story among Superman and a private investigator who really manages to solve nothing and uncover nothing of substance. Alternatively, cutting out half an hour to tighten up the film may have solved a few problems, but the movie really lacks the excitement people are looking for in this kind of movie. The excitement doesn't have to come from action, but from a general sense that the main character is accomplishing something; director Allen Coulter fails to capture this.
"Hollywoodland" offers a good performance from Affleck and a mystery that has kept people wondering for fifty years, but its inability to convert the premise into an entertaining and captivating movie is blatantly obvious.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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