Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Movie: Hollywoodland (2006)

An actor becomes famous for a role, only to have it haunt him to his grave. A story like that, equal parts legend and B-movie, was destined to happen to somebody. That somebody, according to dark L.A. lore, was TV’s Superman George Reeves.

The movie is a combination of noir and show business, so naturally I liked it. It’s particularly well-cast. Ben Affleck has been deservedly racking up acclaim (including a Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival) for his portrayal of Reeves. There’s also Bob Hoskins as one of the last old-school studio moguls, who can’t mask his East Coast menace with sharp suits and a suntan. And Diane Lane, long a favorite around Chez K – she was Ellen Aim! – is tremendous as a woman acutely aware of how far her looks have taken her, and how much longer they’re going to last.

The scenes with Adrien Brody as the shady private eye hyping Reeves’ death as a murder only to suspect that he might be right aren’t as compelling as the rest of the movie. They can’t be. But Brody is nicely conflicted in the part.

Plenty of big name stars have taken home Best Supporting Oscars. But originally, the categories were created to honor the work of canny veterans who fleshed out movies with small-scaled, sharply-detailed performances. Actors like Jeffrey DeMunn. He shines as Reeves’ loyal agent, a man who has spent so long in the trenches that he hides his strong opinions behind a toothy grin without thinking about it.

Some critics have carped that the film doesn’t offer a solution, instead dramatizing three possibilities. I don’t know what movie they were watching, because there’s no doubt in my mind where Hollywoodland comes down on what happened that night. Besides, the three outcomes are essentially the same. They’re all cases of a town that insists on happy endings forgetting to keep one for itself.