Modern Classic: HOLLYWOODLAND (2006)

By Anthony Moretta

I'm all into this flick, balls and molars. Maybe it's the Superman connection. Maybe it's Los Angeles of the 1950s. After a re-watch, nothing has changed. Hollywoodland is one of the under-appreciated films of the last decade and one of my favorites.

Adrien Brody plays P.I. Louis Simo, recently divorced and stumbling through cheating-wife cases and fatherhood. Simo is clued in on certain unresolved aspects of the death of actor George Reeves (played in flashbacks by Ben Affleck), which was officially ruled a suicide. Simo begins nosing around, elbowing cops and confidantes for any information that may lead to another conclusion and a bigger profile for himself. As Simo learns more, we learn more, treated to pieces of Reeves and his struggling career, eventually taken in by his sugar mama, Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), the aging trophy wife of sketchy MGM head, Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins). Simo can't get a hold on his kid or ex-wife (Molly Parker) and tries to keep composure while his new girl, Kit (Caroline Dhavernas), is screwing around and pretending to be an actress.

Simo is bankrolled by Reeves' estranged mom (Lois Smith), convinced her son didn't kill himself. Simo seems to agree and imagines the possibilities of that night, from an accidental bullet to the head by Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney) - the gold-digging fiancee' - to a calculated hit commissioned by Mannix. Simo takes some bumps and bruises, ramming horns with L.A.P.D. and the Mannix crew, but is fixated on pointing blame somewhere for Superman's death.

Paul Bernbaum's script is right on, brought to life by a solid gold cast. And although there's nothing terribly interesting or innovative about Allen Coulter's direction, he makes some good decisions by staying on the cheap show and cheap suit of television's Superman, played against the increasing hysteria of adolescent popularity and total disrespect of the adult players in the business. Coulter also does well to blend the flashbacks and breathes life into Simo's concoctions that makes each look equally plausible with varying angles, points-of-view and tonal textures.

All the mystery and suspense is borne of conjecture, dug up out the hypothetical and theoretical. Like David Fincher's Zodiac (2007), there's no real pay-off. We all know the historical recount. The zodiac killer was never caught. George Reeves put a slug through his own brain. So, where does Hollywoodland go when it's already there before the first frame?

It ultimately succeeds by telling a story of heartbreak and unfulfilled dreams, couching movie magic in a dissolute world of two-timers and sell-outs. Where wanna-be gangsters run the picture business and an actor has no right to expect anything more than mere fame and fortune. Being remembered is all that matters. Relevance through ubiquity. Toni parades Reeves, Simo parades himself. Reeves wants silver screen validation, Simo needs social sanctions. There's a twisty parallel between the two male leads and the film draws power from flashing light on the dark. This isn't the limp '50s of prim suburbs and whole milk. This has females with raging libidos and swearing like bricklayers, divorcees, booze hounds and broken homes.

All of this works like tits because the actors are throwing the book at us. Brody plays sorry and scrappy like young Pacino, Lane is sad and strong, and Hoskins is exceptional stones, as usual. And Affleck. Well, he's awesome. He took some shit for the tabloid turnouts and choice of roles mid-career. But he has become a very good filmmaker and shows here that he has a thing or two of thespian talents. His Reeves is broad and belied by golden age looks and longings, while coursing through stale sex and stilted salutations. Vain, money-making mantras wallpaper the desires of being like Clark Gable, or some respectable artist, instead of a human comic book, forced to wear a dull grey suit in place of that splendid blue.

The haunting and heart-rendering finale lends an eye to Simo's personal battle. Watching Reeves' final film reel is a testament to the humiliating fall of an illustrated hero. And once Simo can believe that Superman offed himself, what chance does Simo have making it to a natural end? Could someone hate himself enough to do this fucked-up world the favor? Maybe that's the point. That we're all dying a little. Day by day, dream to dream.

Anthony Moretta is from Brooklyn, NY and writes about '70s crime films at Goodbye Like A Bullet. His writing has appeared in Out of the Gutter Online and is featured in the comics anthology, Unfashioned Creatures. His independent film project, Travels, is currently in post-production and he's also developing an original comic book series.