Hollywoodland Review (Dave's Take)
by Dave Minkus
September 7, 2006
Affleck and Lane: The Only Shining Stars in Hollywoodland
Sometimes, movies can be frustrating. A movie can have elements that couldn't be more perfect: visual style, a strong plot or an outstanding performance. But unfortunately the rest of the film is so flat that it really brings down the opinion of the film. This sums up Hollywoodland perfectly for me.
Hollywoodland is a crime drama looking at the death of the original Superman, George Reeves (Ben Affleck). Though ruled a suicide, this movie illuminates quite a few details that put that ruling into question at the least. I won't spoil those details as they add quite a bit to the mystique of Reeves' death and deserve to be discovered. I have to say the fact that the film doesn't draw any conclusions is a credit and should be applauded. The problem is that by the end of the movie, I had a hard time caring about what happened.
Before the ugly, let's talk about the good. This movie contains the best performance of Ben Affleck's career. Some people would tell me that isn't saying much, but his work in Chasing Amy, Dogma and Good Will Hunting have shown a great deal of promise, and he lives up to it all in Hollywoodland. He IS George Reeves. Initially, it was hard to buy him because he's Ben Affleck, but he is so committed to the part of Reeves that you eventually forget about all the press baggage he brings to the role. His vocal rhythm is exactly like Reeves. The look in his eyes and the way he carries himself is dead on perfect. When you see him acting as Superman or Clark Kent, his delivery couldn't be better. Even better yet, when he shows the dark side of my childhood hero (1PM every summer weekday from ages 7 to 12, thank you very much), I didn't feel like he was destroying the man I admired. He was showing the human side of the man. You sympathize with the man who wants to be more than the star of serials and you feel for him because he had the talent to be so much more. In Hollywoodland, you begin to truly understand what it means for an actor like Reeves to be typecast. The scene at the premier for From Here to Eternity was heartbreaking. I would in a minute compare this performance to the way Jim Carrey melted into Andy Kaufman. Affleck seriously deserves Oscar consideration, but I don't believe it will happen.
While every scene with Affleck (even dead) is engaging and leaves you wanting more, every other scene was uneven at best. Adrien Brody was more than capable in the role of the private investigator digging into the case who ends up getting much too involved. Diane Lane was amazing as the sugar mama who truly cared for Reeves. The chemistry between her and Affleck was great and the tenderness she showed felt genuine. Bob Hoskins is great as the smarmy and crooked studio head. The cast played the parts they needed to very well.
The problem is that either somewhere in the writing or the directing, what should have been an engaging film with characters who have skeletons in the closet, ends up feeling like it's just plodding along to show the different theories and get back to the Reeves flashbacks. Hollywoodland knows what beats to hit as a crime drama, but that's all it does. It embodies going through the motions, and that is almost a crime in itself. This film should have been far better than it was. There's no doubt in my mind that the actors involved held up their end. Early buzz has Diane Lane getting an Oscar nomination, and she would fully deserve it. The only question is if the fault lies in the direction or the writing. Somewhere in the transition from the word on the page to the direction on the screen, this film completely failed to connect, outside of the retrospective George Reeves scenes. In the end this is going to hurt the acclaim that Ben Affleck has rightfully earned in his performance.
In the end, Hollywoodland is, at best, a fair crime drama with some amazing high points. Had this film been a biography of the life and times of George Reeves, you would be hearing more Oscar buzz right now. Hollywoodland certainly deserves some Oscar buzz, but the overall failures of the film will ultimately outweigh the genius of Affleck's performance. If you want to see what kind of actor Ben Affleck can be, you'll find the cost of the ticket well spent. However, you better catch it while you can because this will most likely be overshadowed by The Black Dahlia when it releases next week.