ANDREW CLARKE A glorious period murder mystery - Hollywoodland is a film noir thriller based on the real-life death in June 1959 of Superman actor George Reeves - was it suicide or was it murder?
A glorious period murder mystery - Hollywoodland is a film noir thriller based on the real-life death in June 1959 of Superman actor George Reeves - was it suicide or was it murder?
Director Allen Coulter makes a hugely impressive feature debut having cut his teeth directing numerous episodes of Rome, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, X-Files and Sex and the City.
He tells the story in two time zones. Adrien Brody plays Louis Simo, a low-rent private detective scraping a living at the fringes of the entertainment industry.
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He is commissioned to investigate the death of actor George Reeves by Reeves' elderly mother who refuses to believe that her son would commit suicide.
We get to see the 10 years leading up to Reeves' death seen in flashback as Brody's private eye wades through the murky waters of the actor's recent past.
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It's an investigation not made easier by interference from the studios who are seeking to hide the fact that Reeves, brilliantly realised by Ben Affleck, was having a long-term affair with Toni Mannix, the wife of powerful MGM executive Eddie Mannix.
Diane Lane, possibly the most undervalued actress in present-day Hollywood, delivers another stand-out performance as the manipulative woman who keeps Reeves as her toy boy.
Reeves comes across as something of a bland wannabe whose dreams exceeded his talent.
Lane's Toni Mannix buys Reeves a house and keeps him in grand style - until he goes to a promotional trip to New York and falls for a young gold-digger Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney).
He dumps Toni and moves in with Leonora, who quickly discovers that Reeves is not a wealthy man - his money came from his mistress. With Superman cancelled, his career goes into freefall and two women have a motive for murder.
Although the story is about George Reeves, the film is actually driven by Adrien Brody as the down-at-heel private eye who is enduring his own relationship crisis.
Affleck gives a career-reviving performance as Reeves, a man who enjoyed the fame but not the shallowness of the role. In fact, he used to burn the Superman costume at the end of each season.
Allen Coulter breathes a great deal of class and mystery into the film as, through the role of Louis Simo rehearses the various scenarios that could have happened on that fateful evening.
Coulter does a superb job capturing the look and feel of America at the time; the photography and the slight sepia colour palette create an immediate sense of time and place.
Bob Hoskins does his reliable growl as Eddie Mannix, studio boss Louis B Mayer's resident rottweiller, keeping his wayward stars in line.
It is implied that Mannix himself may have ordered Reeves' execution after he discovered that his wife had been having an affair.
The film doesn't offer any real answers, but it does offer an entertaining and genuinely absorbing look at a world that has now vanished.
It was a world ruled by dictators, but was populated by chancers and good-time characters look for a gravy-train to ride. It was a volatile world but was fun while it lasted.
A fantastic period piece which will keep you guessing until the final credits roll.