Movie Review by Siobhan Daly
Starring: Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney
Director: Allen Coulter
Hollywood – the fabled town of dreams and dreamers. It’s magnetic allure for aspiring entertainers sees many arrive seeking their fame and fortune, but for many more, it is also their undoing.
George Reeves was the original Superman. Starring, out of financial necessity but against his artistic integrity and A-list ambitions in the TV show that would make him a household name, he was one of the first major TV celebrities in the world. Dying from a single gunshot to the head on June 16, 1959, the life and exact cause of the demise of George Reeves have long been subject to speculation, but why?
HOLLYWOODLAND is an engrossing and engaging film which explores the three major theories behind Reeves’s death. He had a long-term affair with Toni Mannix (played by Diane Lane), the wife of MGM Managing Director Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins), a fearsome man and legendary ‘fixer’ of Hollywood stars and their problems. Although the affair was accepted by Mannix who had mistresses of his own, it was supposedly the end of the relationship in mid-1958 when Reeves met Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney), that provoked Toni’s – and thereby Eddie’s – wrath.
But George’s problems didn’t end there. Leonore became his fiancee, but it is suggested that he decided not to marry her, creating not one but two women scorned.
Added to which, he was possibly suffering from depression. So what really killed George Reeves?
Private detective Louis Simo, played with appropriate Chandler-esque brooding by Adrian Brody, is hired by Reeves’s mother Helen Bessolo (Lois Smith) to prove that her son was murdered. The case had been quickly closed by the LA Police Department but there were still a number of glaring unanswered questions. Why was George bruised? Why was the gun at his feet and the cartridge under his back? Why was there more than one bullet hole in his room and why did it take the guests at his house on the night he died, including Leonore, 45 minutes to call the police? Simo is tasked with trying to uncover the truth, which proves harder than he bargained for. Coming up against chain-wielding thugs, the powerful and controlling studio system and a number of people unwilling to speak out, he finds himself getting dangerously involved in a mystery he can’t explain.
Reeves’ life is revealed through beautifully filmed flashbacks in contrast to the harsh sun-bleached LA of Louis Simo. Ben Affleck as George Reeves is an absolute revelation, putting in an astoundingly excellent performance. He subtly captures all the nuances of an actor struggling to cope with establishing a career as a serious actor in Hollywood, grappling with celebrity but not of the kind he wished for and being typecast as the man of steel. Reeves wanted to be respected as a major talent. He found himself revered, but only by children. Desperate for serious movie roles and not TV parts (a medium which wasn’t seen as particularly credible), he was cast in the 1952 Burt Lancaster flick FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, only to see the majority of his role cut when the audience started heckling ‘Superman’. Roles quickly dried up. He was forced by increasingly dire circumstances to audition for a wrestling programme. Affleck’s charm and wit are delightful but equally, the humiliation, desperation and defeat in his eyes when he is trying to demonstrate his fighting skills is heartbreaking. The film is never flippant and treats Reeves with a tangible level of dignity. This is largely due to the respect and maturity with which Affleck approaches his role and the skill with which he portrays this multi-layered personality.
HOLLYWOODLAND has an outstandingly well-written script by Paul Bernbaum and has a cast of actors who excel at portraying the complicated lives of the protagonists. Diane Lane puts in a glamorous and passionate performance as George’s love Toni Mannix, while Bob Hoskins plays the part of MGM’s general manager and Toni’s husband with steely gangster perfection.
The film carefully refrains from giving a conclusion on Reeve’s death, but with its themes of longing, success, desire, unfulfilled ambition and loss will continue to haunt you long after you’ve left the cinema.