The unexpected death of a prominent Hollywood actor is always an unfortunate event. On June 16, 1959, a single bullet wound to the head of George Reeves, television’s heroic Superman, took him from the glitz and glamour of entertainment’s epicenter to an all but flashy end.
Who, however, pulled the trigger? Director Allen Coulter provides “answers” to this question in his directorial debut of the noir biodrama Hollywoodland.
An interesting thing about the film is that it never answers this essential question. The infamous death of Reeves has been one shrouded in mystery, and Coulter keeps it that way. The audience is meant to see this and determine their own opinion of what happened.
The film follows two converging storylines simultaneously. On one hand you have the stellar performance of Ben Affleck, showing how George Reeves’ limited career changed Toni Mannix’s (Diane Lane) “man friend” from a charming actor struggling to be the next Clark Gable to a depressive man struggling to shake the “Man of Steel” image.
Affleck in the first place is eerily perfect as Reeves, as we’ve seen Affleck himself reach highs and lows (Gigli, anyone?) to an even greater extent than Reeves himself.
Reeves is one of the most depressing real-life Hollywood stories, captured beautifully by Coulter. One of the saddest scenes of the movie comes in a movie theater showing Reeves’ own film much after “The Adventures of Superman’s” cancellation.
Hearing nothing but “Hey it’s Superman!” and “Superman will save them from the Japanese” riddled with snickers, Reeves realizes that his career can go no further than the blue tights.On the other side of the story you have Adrien Brody’s Louis Simo, a fictitious Hollywood detective set out to solve Reeves’ mystery.
Based on the lawyer and detective Reeves’ mother Helen Bessolo (Lois Smith) hired, Simo goes from an uncaring detective thrown into a case to a passionate fellow human being.
This required him to sift through the corruption and deceit of the entertainment industry, but also of family and marriage as well. He realizes that the lessons he learns from his day job coincide with the issues evolving in his home. Simo’s quest for redemption is found to be the ultimate center of his story line.What’s a good Hollywood mystery without the corruption, greed, adultery, and lies? All of the mystery is derived from these problems. Could Reeves’ fianc√© have killed him? Yes. Could Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins) have had him killed for having an affair with his wife? It’s very possible.
It extends beyond Reeves’ problems to Simo’s own life. We see a deteriorating home life as he struggles to get past Mannix’s men, the LAPD, and the media to get to the bottom of the case. For such a low budget film, Hollywoodland certainly gives audiences the feel of the 1950s. The portrayal of corruption and other elements is beautifully executed. As melancholy as it may be, Coulter does a magnificent job telling George Reeves’ story.
Whatever your own conclusion about what happened is, George Reeves is gone from this world, yet there is no doubt this film does his death justice.
As the tagline goes, living in Hollywood can make you famous; dying in Hollywood can make you a legend.