The Hollywood sign was never supposed to last; it was just a set piece for some otherwise forgettable movie—the full sign said Hollywoodland. Land was removed. The movie Hollywoodland would benefit if it had been shortened like the sign—benefit, but it would still not work.
George Reeves (Ben Affleck), TVs Superman, is dead of a gunshot wound to the head—murder or suicide? Enter, Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), a former policeman turned private investigator. Reeves’s mother hires Simo because she is convinced that George did not kill himself. The tale is then told in alternating chapters between George’s past and Louis’s present as he tries to piece together the story. He does this in a city whose police and bodyguards and fix-it men do everything they can to make sure that the city’s industry, ‘the pictures’ only has a positive image. So Louis faces the regular amount of thugs and wise-guys who try to get him to stop his investigation. This is a mystery story, so if I go much farther, I would give too much away.
Reeves has an affair with the wife, Toni, of the general manager of MGM. Diane Lane plays Toni and is the brightest spot of a lackluster film. Ms. Lane is one of those of her craft that is so comfortable on her end of the camera that she has the ability to immediately relax an audience. It is not through Toni that George gets the Superman role, but he is her kept boy and continues to be so until he decides to give up acting to pursue directing and producing.
The subplots to the film are numerous and tacked on. There is the affair that Reeves has with a woman called Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney); this opens one of several possible storylines that point towards murder over suicide. There is the plot involving Reeves’s mother who is convinced, apparently, that her son did not kill himself (and was an important actor). There are four subplots alone for Mr. Simo: former detective using his connections and the problems this causes; his divorce and strained relationship with his son; the relationship he has with his assistant who is sleeping around; a bad turn of events for a paranoid client who hires Simo to find his wife’s paramour. None of these four subplots mean anything because they are no more than half-hearted attempt to give Simo some back story. If the movie could decide if it focused on Reeves or Simo, then it would not have been as confusing as it was and could have been half an hour shorter—there was much that could be removed and it would not have been any more confusing and at least a bit less of a temporal torture.
The sets, costumes, and props were all top notch though. They did an excellent job of capturing the late 1950s. This alone, however, is not worth the time it takes to watch the movie.
In the final analysis, though, the end (and this is a mystery, so the end is supremely important) is both confusing and unfulfilling. My category for this sort of ending is that the director or cinematographer realize they only have about 30 feet of film left, so they shoot a schmaltzy 25 foot ending hoping the last five feet will carry the credits.
To be entirely clear, I am not giving Hollywoodland one star because, while it as basically dull and very confusing, at least one performance and the set pieces were good enough to pull the film up to the ‘below average’ category. I wouldn’t recommend this.
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In a critically acclaimed performance, Ben Affleck plays Reeves in moody flashbacks, caught between Superman stardom and financial dependence on his lover Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), the somewhat predatory wife of Hollywood "fixer" and MGM honcho Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins), whose mob connections suggest foul play as Simo's investigation ...