Hollywoodland wishes it could be grander than it is. From its old timey title, insider lingo and shiny production values, it wants to soar high above the cliffs of tinsel-town like L.A. Confidential and swoop down into its underbelly like Chinatown. But it doesn't. Which is not to say that as an early fall movie it's not passable entertainment, it just ain't art.
Leading the charge for artistic redemption is Hollywood's favorite whipping boy, Ben Affleck. He plays George Reeves, the B list actor best known for his TV role as the original Man O' Steel and for mysteriously ending up with a bullet in his head at 45. His mama doesn't believe her son would kill himself and so hires two bit private detective Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) to nose about the case. Simo discovers, and we see through glossy flashback, that Reeves was the kept man of industry wife Toni Mannix (Diane Lane). Her husband (Bob Hoskins) a big wig producer one step shy of a gangster and also dabbling on the side, Toni finds with George a sweet report, despite the fact that her checkbook gives her the pants in their relationship.
Some of the best moments in the movie are in the initial seduction scenes between Lane and Affleck. Lane has a talent which only burns more brightly as she gets older. She easily communicates both Toni's knowing sexiness and her desperation as her beauty fades from age. Affleck's performance is also all about conveying former glory through a waning exterior, though in his case, that project is conveniently meta. Just as Reeves thinks he never got a fair deal from the film industry after being typecast as the kiddie super-hero, Superman, Affleck's career has also been hobbled, by tabloid scrutiny and stinkers like Gigli. Hopefully, this decent performance marks the beginning of more complex roles for Affleck, because it does seem that he can do a certain amount on screen.
The part where this movie really disappoints is in its slickness and wishy washiness. The film's loving production design while impressive in its attention to period detail, comes across as merely fancy surface. Any substantial emotional resonance, like the attempts made with Louis's strained relationship to his son, are one note. Superman is a real man, even though Louis's son only sees him on TV, not like his absent Daddy. Can we get more obvious in our symbolism? Unfortunately the train pulls out of Obvious Town when it comes to the murder mystery plot. Because really, who likes their famous mysteries solved by fiction films? Isn't it much better to leave it all open ended and laden with cliche psychology? Director Allen Coulter, a first timer in the feature film arena, sadly seems to think so.