I had the pleasure of watching a part drama, part biopic about one of my favourite actors. The film was called Hollywoodland and this is my review of the film.
Hollywoodland tells the sad story of George Reeves. He was the actor who portrayed Superman in the very successful TV series The New Adventures of Superman which aired in America from 1951 to 1957. In 1959 at the age of 45 Reeves was found dead at his home in Hollywood, from apparent gun wounds sustained by means of suicide. Over the following years the question has been raised numerous times questioning whether the actor took his own life or if he was actually murdered. It is a question that will probably never be answered as all the participants in the story surrounding the death of Reeves have also passed away, bear in mind this was nearly 50 years ago.
The point of the film is to piece together Reeves last movements and persona from a third person point of view, in this case it is from the view of Adrian Brody’s character called Louis Simo, he is basically a Private Eye who learns a few lessons the hard way whilst dealing with the request of Reeves’s Mother, Helen Bessolo, to discover how her son actually died. He takes on the task at his usual rate of $50 per day and unwittingly opens a can of worms and gets drawn into a world where studio executives will go to any lengths to protect their assets, in this case there performers as well as themselves. The story moves from Simo’s timeline which is the present day (1959/ 1960) back to when Reeves was alive and takes his story from when Reeves who not a well known actor at the time even though he had a number of small parts in major films like Gone with the Wind is still trying to get noticed amd is on the cusp of stardom.
George Reeves is played by Ben Affleck; Affleck’s career up to this film had taken a major dive as a number of films that Affleck starred in had not made the return that was anticipated. So in some respects this film is his comeback. With his looks and stature Affleck is by far the best choice for the role, originally X-Men star Hugh Jackman had been lined up to play the character of Reeves, personally I don’t this would have worked as he was playing Wolverine in the X-Men trilogy at the time, so for me Affleck was the better choice. It is throughout the film that you see Affleck in the Superman costume and dressed as Clark Kent that you realise just how good a choice he was for this film. That is not to say that Affleck breezes through the film, he doesn’t, as it does stretch Affleck’s acting ability and shows what a ladies man Reeves actually was as he has does have a number of ladies in his company as the story is told.
There are moments of high tension that do keep you on the edge for a while and does make you think. For example Reeves played an event dressed as Superman and as part of the festivities a small sized stunt show was held. Reeves in full costume burst through a wall and as Superman in the time honoured tradition saved the day. Afterwards when the kids ran up to meet him a child pointed a gun at Reeves to see if the bullets would bounce of him, The only issue was that the gun was real and loaded, Reeves in shock at what he saw told the child, who was only 7 years old that if he did fire the gun at him that the bullets would ricochet and hurt an innocent member of the audience. The child placed the gun on the floor, as you can imagine the audience were deathly quiet throughout this incident that Reeves had to manage, to save his own life. I found this scene quite frightening in nature. On the flipside there is a poignant scene where Reeves, Toni Mannix and Reeves agent are sitting in a restaurant. Toni Mannix is someone who is very important to the story who I shall come too shortly, this scene in the restaurant shows how much of a hero that Reeves had become to the kids of America as he is spotted by a troop of Cub Scouts in the restaurant. After some persuasion Reeves slowly walks up to the window, stands there for a while and takes a Superman pose. Outside the crowd now goes ecstatic jumping and screaming for George to out there, this is what Reeves and signs autographs for the kids who cannot believe that they are meeting there hero.
The film is finely balanced between the characters of Reeves and Simo. You also get to see from Simo’s family how the death of Reeves is taken by the kids who watched the show religiously every week. For me this was one of the truly emotional scenes as you see children of 6 to 10 get told that Superman id dead, the reaction from them is quite upsetting to see on screen as although they don’t entirely understand the situation, they do take it quite badly to the extent that Simo’s child in the story burns his Superman costume. The structure of the film is that Reeves death is announced at the beginning and through a number of flashbacks the story is told in quite some detail. It also build s up a picture as to why Reeves may have committed suicide and why he may have been murdered. To strengthen the suicide theory you see Reeves at the premiere of From Here to Eternity. Via means of computer special effects you see a scene with Affleck as Reeves and Burt Lancaster from the movie itself. Whilst in the theatre watching this the reaction of the audience shocks Reeves who has to leave because of this feedback he has received. I will explain further, the American audience only saw him as Superman, after all the character of Superman was the epitome of the all-American icon and what he stood for. With the reactions that Reeves received with people shouting out “Where’s Lois Lane?” and “Faster than speeding bullet!” it was painfully obvious that from the mocking that Reeves would not be accepted in other role. Eventually the decision was made to cut these scenes from the film itself, which as an actor was painful for Reeves to accept.
The other way the film leans to is that it suggests that Reeves was murdered because of his womanising and the fact that he had an affair with Toni Mannix who at the time was married to Eddie Mannix who was happens to be one of the most powerful studio executives in Hollywood with a lot of connections. Toni Mannix is played by the wonderful Diane Lane; she not only gives an exceptionally strong performance but also has screen chemistry with Affleck in the scenes that they share. In fact Lane was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in this film. I think that says quite a lot about the calibre of the production as well as the script itself. Lane not only looks marvellous as Mannix but plays the character in such a way that you feel for her when she finds out that Reeves is dead as you do get the impression that she knows more than what she is letting on about.
Eddie Mannix could not have a better actor portray him. Bottom-line the character is a thug and a gangster, if someone disagrees with him then they are removed from the equation, end of story. Eddie Mannix is played by Bob Hoskins, he not only comes across in a sinister and aggressive manner but also give of the presence that he can be pure evil when threatened. It is the posture and look of Hoskins that in my mind makes the character what he is and at times you do get the idea that he also knows more than what he has let on about. One of the best scenes I the film is where Simo comes face to face with Eddie Mannix. Not going to say anymore on this scene as it is very intense.
Simo is played by the ever reliable and excellent Adrian Brody, for him it is a journey of discovery and loss. From the time when he takes the job and what he goes through, you see a man who gets totally deconstructed in stature and self-worth; lose nearly everything he owned to the extent that he has to stop and rebuild his life. At the start of the film you find out that he is separated from his wife and his son. It is his journey at times in the film takes first spot, and as with everyone in this film Brody gives a powerful performance of a man on the edge, who has out of desperation has reached the point that he has got nothing to lose and still continues to push forward with the investigation. One of the turning points is that half way through the film Helen Bessolo turns her back on him. Simo believes that she has been paid off but nothing is confirmed. It is from here on that Brody’s performance steps up a gear even further when he has so called friends turn on him and must somehow work out his next steps.
I suppose you could quite easily call this a period drama, because it is set in a time when studio executives had a number of issues to manage, such as affairs between performers, actors being ‘outed’ as communist supporters and so on, which is reflected in the story itself and to be honest the detail that the film goes into is amazing from the architecture of buildings used to the cars that are driven to the clothing that the actors wear. Everything is spot on and you feel that a lot of effort has been put in to get he 50’s feel. To give an example of the detail, there were two costumes used in the film, Superman’s grey costume for the early series in black and white and the true blue, red and yellow for the colour series. Both of these were spot on as was the fact that most of the cast smoke throughout the length of the film, in fact this film does come with a health warning as its shows the glamorous side the filthy habit, but this is reflective of a time when smoking was something that everyone did and that the consequences were unheard of. The use of CGI is minimal as clips showing Reeves had to be replaced with Affleck.
Towards the end of the movie you see that George Reeves although somewhat older and slowly reaching a dead end in acting terms still had a number of options that he could pursue. He was an athletic man anyway who had a talent to give that was very much underrated. This film does show how Reeves got parts as you see him reluctantly auditioning for parts in some major movies. But you can’t help thinking how differently things could have turned out if he hadn’t had died.
This is a film that cannot possibly give a whodunit and why, so when you do watch this don’t expect any Columbo style arrests or anything. What it does do is present and entwines with Louis Simo’s tale the sad story of an actor who was typecast and could not escape a role of what made him famous in the first place, and the manner in which the film has been resented shows a story of two people whose stories have come together and yet never met each other. I think that this was a brave move to do flashbacks in the same way as the TV series Lost, but that is not to sat that it doesn’t work as it does. From my point of view after watching this I cannot imagine the film being in two separate parts as the way this has been produced is slick and stylish without any Pulp Fiction style story telling that could have confused the issue further.
The film itself is 2 hours and 6 minutes long in length and although this may be a long time for people to sit and watch I found it went quite quickly. I also found the film to be not only entertaining but also thought provoking in the way it deliberated the facts that had been produced. I was thoroughly impressed by the film and its undeniably mature approach that it took to the presentation of the story, thankfully without turning it into something that could be shown on the Hallmark Channel as a biopic that is scheduled at 1.30 on a Wednesday afternoon.. I believe that there are two reasons for this one – the script which was written by Paul Benbaum, who had written previously written for episodes of The A Team and more recently the Nicholas Cage movie Next. The other reason is that the Direction is not by any means static and in places just centres on the story without anything fancy. This is credit to TV Director Alan Coulter who I think captured the feel of the era that the film is set in with direction that creates a fair amount of tension throughout, especially at scenes which are confrontational in nature.
The original title was going to be Truth, Justice and the American way, but it was felt that in the modern age that this was far too risky a title. It was changed to Hollywoodland which refers to the original length of the famous sign in the Hollywood hills. Also it had to be changed as DC Comics who own the rights for Superman had the original title as a registered trademark which caused a number of legal actions to be raised.
Thanks for reading my review and take care until next time.