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Cast: Adrien Brody, Ben Affleck, Diane Lane, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney, Phillip MacKenzie, Larry Cedar
A detective examines the mysterious death of George Reeves, TV's Superman.
Release Date: 8 September 2006 (USA)
Hollywoodland is a film about two men living in separate times but in the same environment who want to be the players in life. The ones the media paparazzi follows wherever they go because they are someone. But both of these men don't get that who they are is what life gives them. And because they are both so worried about image and being the top dog in society, they miss their true opportunities in life. One man will fall and eventually die before he ever hits his peak, as the other man who searches for the reasons why he died will learn to grow and realize that perhaps being a good father to his son is more important than having his picture in the paper.
"It's just a job." says a detective in the beginnings of the film to Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), a wannabe private dick, like the ones he's seen in the movies. His outward personality and demeanor suggests that he's trying to be a cross between James Dean and Humphrey Bogart in 1950s Hollywood. A man who wants to be a part of the action, whatever that action is, and seems to think that what car a man drives suggests that he's either a player or a nobody.
That line uttered to Louis is almost a throwaway, but it sums up what this film is all about. And Louis will spend the entire film realizing that it really is just a job and that who a man is has nothing to do with being known or a part of the action. Because like Hollywood itself, the action is really just a mirage, created by clevor writers and never contradicted by the artists and studio executives working in the entertainment business because it's part of the label and the label is the main thing that pays them their great salaries. Glamour is just a brand that sells products to people. TV shows, movies, magazines etc... the mirage of Hollywood is convincing people that who they are and what they do is somewhat better than everyone else. It's the analogy of capitalism itself! A system that probably works better than any other society setup, but their are a lot of harmful things that occur. People think that if they have money and posessions, it will make them happier. Just like they think that if they are famous, then life will be a whole lot better.
In September 2006 when I saw Hollywoodland for the first time in a downtown Toronto movie theater, there was an actor who I knew that was also in the same cinema watching the film. He approached me afterwards and in a jealous tone mentioned that one of his actor friends was in the film. Apparantly he performed at one of our screenplay festival events (there's been 1000s of actors who have and I can't remember them all). He couldn't believe that he had such a prominent role in the film and wondered aloud to me whether he was going to get a gig like that in the future too.
I found this whole conversation ironic because my actor friend seemed to have missed the story and overall theme of Hollywoodland. It's just a job! There's really nothing glamourous at all when making a film, but when people see the flickering images on the screen they look at the actors on screen in almost a godlike way. But when you actually meet these performers (like Brody and Affleck), you realize that they are just as normal and common as everyone else. The only difference is that they work as an actor for a living.
Of course the whole underlying irony of Hollywoodland is centered around the death of George Reeves (Ben Affleck), the 1950s Superman in the hit kids TV show. The image of Superman is of him flying in the air above the normal people and being the god of the 20th century. Kids at the time had a hard time understanding that their hero died. Superman can't die because he's indestructable. The image of Reeves playing Superman was of a man who had everything a man would ever need in life. And of course there was no way that he wasn't a happy man. But the reallife George Reeves was an alcoholic who always felt that he was better than his Superman role and didn't understand why he wasn't getting the roles that Cary Grant was playing.
The only criticism of this otherwise terrific film is the emotional arcs of Reeves longtime girlfriend, Toni Mannix (played by Diane Lane). An older woman than Reeves, she believes that she only has a certain amount of time to really live before her looks go away. These are important themes to put in movies and stories because of our 21st century vanity obsession. but seems like this storyline was too much for the film because there were so many other things happening. Diane Lane pulls off a terrific performance which masks her underdeveloped character, but when tackling her character's storyline, the filmmakers needed to either go all the way with her or not even start the can of worms of a a woman's vanity insecurities at all. This storyline can tie together with the "I want to be a something" theme of the movie, but there just wasn't enough time to do it because there were already two main character storylines the audience was following.
Director Allen Coulter is probably known in the industry as that Sorpanos director as he helmed some of the most popular episodes of the iconic series. He rarely gets the chance to direct features but I understand why he was hired to do Hollywoodland because it is practically a Sopranos type of episode itself. He tackles the same subjects in Hollywoodland as he did in The Sopranos (wanting to cheat success, depression, addiction, obsession with being a big man, people who constantly lie to themselves). The art of The Sopranos is exactly the art of Hollywoodland: subtle filmmaking and storytelling.
In today's movies, many filmmakers are taught to really hammer home what you're trying to say in a certain scene. In the case of Hollywoodland, it's the audiences job to truly understand George Reeves and Louis Simo. We figure out that these guys are perhaps misguided in their pursuit of success and happiness with their actions. In a typical Hollywood directed movie, a director would make sure that the audience knows that these guys are headed down the wrong path by either showing an obvious scene of them lacking integrity and/or showing their personal vanity obsessions. OR write in a character that explains to the audience what's going on by commenting on the main character's actions (usually played by some sort of sidekick character). The later is a common storytelling device used today as many supporting characters are just in the movie to explain to people what's happening with the main character they are follwoing..
If you go back and watch The Sopranos you see that they never directly tell you what each character is really feeling inside. It's our job to figure this out which is why there is so much debate in online forums and such about the series. And the same is true in Hollywoodland. An interesting film that rarely gets made (as of 2010, perhaps never) in today's corporate Hollywood machine.