Hollywoodland (2006)

hollywoodlandStarring Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney, Kathleen Robertson, Lois Smith, Phillip MacKenzie, Larry Cedar

Directed by Allen Coulter

Expectations: Low.


I kicked off my run through the Superman films with Superman and the Mole Men, so it seems somewhat fitting that my last review before Man of Steel should come around full circle. Hollywoodland is centered around the death of George Reeves, star of Superman and the Mole Men and the TV series it spawned: The Adventures of Superman. Hindsight reveals this as a landmark series, and as part of the foundation for the superhero genre that now populates our multiplex theaters every summer. At the time, though, things were not quite all wine and roses. Reeves wasn’t especially fond of the Superman role, even though it gave him fame among the kiddos. If we buy into the film’s character being similar to the real Reeves, he struggled and hoped to get more well-respected roles (much like the Jayne Mansfield character in The Jayne Mansfield Story).

Hollywoodland combines two things I generally try to stay away from in film: movies about Hollywood (as in the filmmaking industry, not the city) and celebrity biopics. The film definitely had moments that reminded me why I feel this way, but the narrative is varied and interesting enough to largely sideline these personal issues. The film is definitely too slow and longer than it needs to be, though. First time filmmaker Allen Coulter tries to fight the boredom back with a time-jumping narrative structure, moving between the investigation of Reeves’s death and flashbacks of his troubled life. Sometimes this works well, and sometimes it feels like a crutch used to spice up a slow-moving storyline.

hollywoodland_2The most interesting aspect is the film’s examination of the various theories on the circumstances of Reeves’s death. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a mystery, but there is something of a “Whodunit?” air to the film. Hollywoodland is more about the drama surrounding the death of Reeves, and how it is equally plausible that his death resulted from one of a few varying theories. Each theory is built up well over the course of the film, but at the same time it takes too long to develop and reveal some of these theories. None of them are complex, so consequently they’re all fairly obvious. Your tolerance for the film’s pace and length will hinge on how you feel about Adrien Brody and Ben Affleck. I like Brody, and Ben Affleck is surprisingly well-cast as Reeves, so I didn’t mind too much. It is a very slow-moving film, though.

I have to wonder what George Reeves would make of the current film climate, where screens large and small are populated with more superheroes than anyone would have ever expected. In the 1950s, comic book films were virtually unheard of, existing only as B-pictures for the youngins or serials before the “real” movie. Reeves may have hated the role and always looked down on it as cheap and meaningless, but with it he helped pave the way for everything that followed. Kids who grew up in the 1950s became the creative forces of the ’70s and ’80s, no doubt some of them inspired by Reeves and his adventures as Superman. Hollywoodland delves a bit into this cultural fascination that children had with Superman, and does so to great success.

Hollywoodland isn’t a great film, but it’s definitely an interesting one. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to Superman fans, but if you also enjoy a biopic with a noir-ish flair, then Hollywoodland has you covered.

6 comments to Hollywoodland (2006)

  • I didn’t even think of watching this before Man of Steel! I still haven’t seen it so can’t give my own thoughts, but your review has me even more curious (again).

  • As someone who occasionally watched the series (in syndication) growing up, I’ve been somewhat interested in this film since it came out. Glad to hear it’s reasonably interesting and entertaining, and that Affleck does well as Reeves.

    On a sort-of side note, I can understand how Reeves wasn’t totally thrilled with the role. It was one where there were a lot of restrictions on his actions, to avoid damaging the image of Superman in the eyes of kids. Memorably, when he had a guest appearance on I Love Lucy, he had to do it as Superman, not as himself or as another character, because his producers didn’t want to risk a kid seeing him there and realizing he wasn’t really Superman.

    • Somehow I totally missed the TV show, even though I grew up watching a whole bunch of old television shows like Andy Griffith and such. I’m sure you’d get a little more out of it than I did, having some connection to the show.

      Wow, didn’t know he was required to be in costume for guest appearances. I like the idea of not breaking the illusion, but yeah, that would make it ridiculous for him to be able to do anything outside of Superman.

  • Can’t say I’d remembered this one either, Will. I haven’t seen it, but probably should because I AM a sucker for films about Hollywood and all that glitters. Sad to hear you didn’t enjoy it on that score, but I’m keen to see how Affleck scrubs up as George Reeves.

    • Yeah, if you like Hollywood films this is one of those. I do always like scenes that show behind the scenes of filmmaking itself, and there’s a couple of good ones on the set of Superman here. There’s exceptions to my rule, for instance I LOVE Singin’ in the Rain, but for the most part I get very bored with “Hollywood” movies.

      Affleck was great. Don’t know that I’ve ever said that!

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