Archive for November, 2009
November 7, 2009
I really love this movie. It’s a period piece (which I love to begin with) set in 1959, and revolves around the death of the actor who played Superman on TV, George Reeves. This work gives us an ultimately sad portrait of the Hollywood lifestyle, in spite of the unholy fun, and even asks us solemnly, and convincingly, to grow-up by the end. All the performances are great, the sets are perfect, and the script is a labor of love, so detailed, so rich in inspiration, so nicely paced, so intertwined in its plot like a Jane Austen novel, it can only be marveled at.
Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), a private investigator, is hired to look into the death of George Reeves. But while the official story called it a suicide, certain irregularities have been unearthed by Simo and lead him to the conclusion it was actually murder. He encounters considerable resistance for this conclusion along the way from the LAPD and the studio executives. It’s tough going: he gets beaten up a couple of times, his girlfriend cuckolds him, his ex-wife shuns him, his young son of about five withdraws further and further from him, and a separate client in a separate case murders his own wife, leaving Simo shattered emotionally. It’s a constant struggle for Mr. Louis Simo against the world.
Brody plays Simo as an in-your-face tough guy, a gum-chewing, gum-spitting-out, cigarettes-addicted, wife-cheating, seedy, 24-hour-stubbled sharp-dressing rogue with a heart of gold. Brody pulls it off perfectly, and captures the imagination. Ben Affleck, too, is great in his portrayal of George Reeves. Affleck gives us a very moving, evocative, poignant, and even elegant picture of an actor who never made the really big-time and who despises himself for it. Affleck’s portrait is plausible and well-done.
Diane Lane plays the September half in her May-September romance with Reeves. She provides a perfect illustration of the insecurity and pain of loving someone completely who unfortunately doesn’t feel quite as passionate in return. Lane gets the jealousy and the anguish of romantic abandonment just right. For example, in one scene, she’s arguing about career stuff with Reeves, and she tells him basically that he’s out of shape. She then taps him under the chin to demonstrate his growing portliness, and she does it a little harder than necessary to make the proximate point. If Reeves so much as talks casually to another woman, Lane writes that pain on the face of her character.
The movie ultimately belongs to Simo/Brody, however. His investigation leads him further and further into a cascade of revelations that disillusion and embitter him. Even the very purpose of the investigation loses its meaning: his original client in the case has made an utter fool of him. In addition, he suffers several emotional upheavals in his personal life during the case. Every so often, Simo runs through in his mind another of the various possibilities as to the manner of Reeves’ death. By the end, however, he seems to consider that suicide, in spite of the murderous depravity of the Hollywood world he finds himself in, is actually just as plausible an explanation as the several murder scenarios. He realizes he’ll never prove the corrupt studio-head (played perfectly by Bob Hoskins), has murdered Reeves in some kind of bizarre revenge for Reeves’ having left Diane Lane.
Simo has become a more sober and better man by the end. He overcomes self-absortion and its convincing lures, and gets in touch with the reality of how deeply he’s been hurting people he cares about by his manner of living and attitude. He realizes, in spite of his ability to charm women, that he has not even begun to live up to the responsibilities of manhood. He realizes that he is a part of the very decadence that he’s investigating! His reward is that he finally regains innocence through these insights into himself and the world.
In this regard, then, this movie is a bit like The Hustler, wherein Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) finds grim redemption in solitary, unbearable suffering and moral reformation after the grisly suicide of his girlfriend. For this commitment to growth, both these movies are valuable and irreplaceable. Hollywoodland, however, is ultimately not as tragic as The Hustler, since the protagonist hears the voice of doom in time.