"Hollywoodland" does not mark the second coming of Ben Affleck. It does, however, mark an ever so slight return to the Ben Affleck who leaped to Hollywood's "A" list for his Oscar win for the "Good Will Hunting" screenplay.
While it's hard to totally ignore the notion that Affleck is somewhat miscast as George Reeves, the 50's "Superman" who allegedly shot himself to death in 1959, it's also hard to ignore that Affleck turns in his best performance in years as the actor who took the role of Superman out of desperation only to watch it ruin his life personally and professionally.
While Affleck is unlikely to see any acting awards come his way, it is a remarkably deliberate, intentional performance that almost sweeps away the memory of the horribly forced fiasco called "Surviving Christmas."
Director Allen Coulter, a successful television director in his feature film debut, generally manages the proceedings well, though one would have to consider the film to be more functional than it is memorable. The production design, while adequate, never distinguishes itself from any other 50's period film.
Coulter is strongest when bringing out the relationships between the players in the film. We have Reeves, his mistress (Diane Lane), her studio-head husband (Bob Hoskins) and, eventually, the woman Reeves dumps his mistress for, Leonore (Robin Tunney). The interplay between the characters, the relationships developed and the tensions created are all convincing, though they all become histrionic when Coulter switches to the storyline of P.I. Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), a detective determined to discover the truth about the death of Reeves.
"Hollywoodland" isn't a film for the lazy film viewer. Coulter doesn't give his audience an easy out by providing a definite answer on the death of Reeves. Did he kill himself? Was it an ordered hit by his ex-mistresses ticked off hubby? Was it an accidental shooting by Leonore during an argument? Or was it the same guy who committed the "Black Dahlia" murder?
Okay, Okay. I made that last one up.
Because Coulter doesn't provide any answers, the questions need to be well developed to maintain interest. Unfortunately, the admirable balance of Paul Bernbaum's script becomes frustrating by the film's end with a lack of clarity and resolution. What is initially attractive, eventually becomes distracting.
The lack of conviction evident throughout the film ultimately leaves the performers to discover their own ways to connect to the story. This happens with varying degrees of success.
The ever-dependable Brody remains dependable here as a hyper-vigilant private investigator on a mission. While he occasionally crosses the line into histrionics, Brody gives the film much needed energy and electricity in nearly every scene.
Likewise, Lane again proves she's one of the best actresses working today by offering a performance that wrings every ounce of nuance from her scorned lover. As her husband, Hoskins is an odd blend of blissful edginess. As Leonore, Robin Tunney again makes me wonder how Hollywood has yet to elevate her to the "A" list of today's actresses.
"Hollywoodland" is, unfortunately, much like the life and career of George Reeves. It starts out with great promise then bursts to life with great energy and style only to end with more questions than answers. It is saved from mediocrity on the strength of a cast that brings the story to life, convoluted as it may be.
Hmmmmm. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe this really is the second coming of Ben Affleck.
Welcome Back, Ben! We missed you.
- Richard Propes
The Independent Critic