Basically a coffee-table tabloid about the 1959 suicide of TV Superman actor George Reeves, whose exit by gunshot left enough murk to feed instant talk of murder and cover-up, the film was directed by Allen Coulter. He is up from TV, but not way up, for Coulter uses some tele-pix touches to stir the pot of speculation that is Paul Bernbaum's acidly tasty script. Ben Affleck, in his best film acting to date, beefed up to play the slab-built Reeves, a charming guy and fair actor whose career has been in a spiral down since a small role in "Gone With the Wind." He hits on TV, then gets a support part in "From Here to Eternity," but his viewing of that is undercut by customers whispering, "Look, there's Superman!"
Reputedly, Reeves came to respect his surprise gig as a '50s role model for kids, who adored him (Ed Woodsy sets and effects were no downers for them). Affleck plays him as an affable hustler scared of failure, joshing his TV fame while smoking, drinking and chasing women (but the actor shows guts, singing a pale "Aquellos Ojos Verdes" before he is crushed by Little Richard's "The Girl Can't Help It").
The woman who most chased him back was Toni Mannix, wife of MGM exec and enforcer Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins, still a bull, yet with accent wandering). Eddie had affairs and tended to wink at Toni's. Diane Lane plays her close to the Lady of MGM manner made into silver cheese by Joan Crawford, yet with a lusting neediness, and her calling Reeves "the boy" is as weird as Eleanor Parker calling mature Stephen Boyd "the boy" in "The Oscar."
After Reeves' shocking death, to which the story keeps returning for new angles (suicide, murder, accident), hungry private eye Lou Simo (Adrien Brody) grabs onto the rumors and gets money from Reeves' mother to feed the press stories that undermine the official verdict. It's a fine performance, though Brody always seems rather gauntly '60s among all the '50s details.
Simo is a link or two down the slime chain from Jake Gittes in "Chinatown" (to which there are visual allusions), and he suffers facial damage as does Jack Nicholson's Gittes. In a corny but oddly resonant touch, Reeves' faked heroism for kids is intercut with the divorced, boozy Simo desperately trying to please his son, a squirt shaken by Superman's death.
Simo hangs around with a blonde who seems like decor, and Reeves hooks up with a creepy, adhesive slut, which upsets his affair with Toni. There is a pervasive odor of party rot, of low gumshoes and cigar butts, of lives craving even cheap gilding in lieu of gold. The glam machine is collapsing, and Joe Spano is ace as cynical MGM publicist and image fixer Howard Strickling.
Not a camp hoot like "Mommie Dearest," nor a taut vision of the dream jungle like "Sunset Boulevard," "Hollywoodland" is gamey in its methods, but rises above a compost heap like "Wonderland." Affleck, Lane and Brody provide human bracing, the old rumors resonate again, and the stage is set for "The Black Dahlia" to claim its own Hollywood land.
A Focus Features release. Director: Allen Coulter. Writer: Paul Bernbaum. Cast: Adrien Brody, Ben Affleck, Diane Lane, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney, Joe Spano, Jeffrey DeMunn. Running time: 2 hours, 6 minutes. Rated R. 3 stars.