[from September 8, 2006]
Hollywoodland, to me, is about failures. It is so dark and bleak that at times it seems like something Charles Dickens would have written about Hollywood. There were moments when I wondered why I was still sitting there watching it.
However, the more I sit and think about it (and I can't help thinking about it), the more impressive it is to me. It reminds me a lot of Chinatown and L.A. Confidential (and I'm wondering very much if the upcoming Black Dahlia - which is part of the same trilogy as Confidential - will have this same feel). It paints a raw picture of the real Hollywood. The cesspool that's seething beneath the glitzy façade. The truth that underneath all the expensive clothes, houses, and dental work, people in Hollywood are as ugly as the rest of us - perhaps uglier. I've always found Hollywood somewhat creepy that way.
The writing is ... nothing special. The directorial technique is likewise not that extraordinary. What really makes this film stand out are some really spectactular performances.
I'm going start with Ben Affleck, because I believe he's rather unfairly gotten a bad rap in the past few years. He's made some poor job choices, and people were more interested in his love life than his work for a while there. But hopefully, that part of his life and career is over now, because I've always found him to be an interesting and talented actor. You can tell from the movie's marketing that they were a bit nervous about advertising Affleck's presence in the film, but he really gets a chance to shine here, and does. He plays the late George Reeves (TV's original Superman, for you kiddies out there) with a great balance of charm and desperation, humor and despair. The last time his Reeves is seen alive in the film is just breathtakingly sad, and I'm sure every actor who has ever been out of work and felt unwanted
Diane Lane is getting a lot of Oscar talk, and deservedly so. Despite not being the main characters of the movie, she and Affleck are the real heart of it. Lane's role of MGM studio exec's wife Toni Mannix is almost cliché. She's married to a philandering studio bigwig who encourages her to find love outside their marriage. She meets the much younger Reeves at a party and soon begins "keeping" him. So, it's basically your garden variety older-woman-loves-younger-man story, with the predictable outcome for the foolish and unfortunate female. But Lane makes this ordinary role something very special, and her last scene with Bob Hoskins is a thing of beauty.
I started by saying that this is a movie about failures. George Reeves and Toni Mannix are both failures in their own ways, but Adrien Brody's Louis Simo is the real personification of this idea. At first it seems obvious and rather cheap to say he's a failure - he's an investigator who works out of a seedy motel room and takes incriminating pictures for ducats a day. His former partner throws him the Reeves case, which has been closed by the police, but which also has lots of holes in it. His exploration of the case and the surprising effects it has on his personal life are the meat of the story. A small side plot involves the children who are Superman fans and who are so devastated and depressed by Reeves' death. One of these children is Louis' son, and every scene between this boy and his father is *about* Reeves' death, and the realization that there are no heroes. That no one has superpowers. That everyone fails. And Brody's exploration of that theme in his character is the backbone of the story.
The more I think about this movie the more I like it. It's quite dark and probably not for everyone, but I think it's an outstanding movie in it's own dismal way.