directed by Allen Coulter
(Universal, 2006)

The career of George Reeves spanned a remarkable breadth of American pop culture -- from a role in Gone With the Wind through television's Adventures of Superman to posthumous "appearances" on the Walt Disney show.

His trajectory ended with a gunshot in 1959. It was a fatality that shocked fans of the Man of Steel -- a role that was a source of both fame and frustration for Reeves. And it shocked many of Reeves' acquaintances, who believed his death wasn't suicide at all, but payback from a spurned lover, a jealous fiancee, an angry movie mogul.

Hollywoodland takes the downward spiral of Reeves and replays it in lush period detail, paralleling his story with that of a third-rate private detective trying to redeem himself while investigating Reeves' death.

Considering the detective, Louis Simo, is played by Oscar winner Adrian Brody, it astonishes me to write this: I wish there had been less of Brody and more of Ben Affleck as Reeves.

Yes, the Affleck of Jersey Girl, Gigli and Bounce has the jawline and the chops to play a mortal Superman. His Reeves has a sadness around the edges, a kind of charm that knows its days are numbered.

When he seduces -- and is seduced by -- the wife of MGM's production chief, Toni Mannix (played by the fantastic Diane Lane), Reeves reaps a house, extravagant gifts and a boost to his acting career. They're a perfect match, George and Toni, each taken less seriously than they'd like and each very aware that their best chances may all be behind them.

It's a sobering thought for anyone; even more so for an actor whose fortune is earned from a job he feels is beneath him. He doesn't want Superman, but he certainly needs Superman.

Affleck's extra pounds in Hollywoodland give him a soft seediness that works well against the image of a leading man Reeves is desperately trying to sustain.

Against this voyeuristic line, the story of the detective's crumbling private life is just a distraction, and not a welcome one. There's more than enough pathos and quiet desperation in Reeves' life without creating another, mirror character.

When Lane and -- yes -- Affleck are onscreen together, you don't need anyone else waiting to come in from the wings.

review by
Jen Kopf

31 May 2008

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