An elegant and compelling mystery from director Allen Coulter ("The Sopranos", "Rome"), "Hollywoodland" is an exploration of the death of actor George Reeves (best known for starring in the TV show, "Adventures of Superman"), whose death was deemed by the police to be a suicide. However, low-rent detective Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) thinks there's more to the case than meets the eye. Hired by Reeves's mother to dig up the truth, he sets off into Hollywood to try and put the pieces of the puzzle together.
After drumming up enough publicity to open the case again, Simo tries to interview those involved, including a studio chief (Bob Hoskins), his wife (who was also having an affair with Reeves, played by Diane Lane) and Reeves's fiancee, Lenore Lemmon (Robin Tunney). The deeper Simo digs, the more he finds out that he's dug himself into trouble, especially when he starts questioning studio executive Eddie Mannix (Hoskins).
In the film's flashbacks (the movie starts shortly after the actor's death with the investigation by Simo, then flashes back to different points in Reeves' life up until then), we see Reeves (Ben Affleck) as a man who went from being a promising actor to a man desperate for work, suffering from being severely typecast (Reeves is cut from "From Here to Eternity" after audiences make "Superman" jokes during an early screening) by the role that made him famous.
Ben Affleck finds himself in a role that puts to use his sort of snappy and slightly goofy humor, confidence and underappreciated dramatic abilities - yes, I thought "Bounce" wasn't bad - to good use. I can't imagine a different actor in this role. Hoskins gives a commanding and compelling performance as a dangerously powerful studio exec. Lane and the underrated Robin Tunney also offer rich, elegant performances, as well. Brody also does a fine job portraying the detective who may never find the answers he's seeking. Needless to say, "Hollywoodland" doesn't have all the answers, just the theories and a handful of facts.
To get the film's major flaw out of the way, it does start to feel overlong by the last third of the picture and a good 20 minutes dropped (there are some side stories here that just don't feel necessary or fully developed. Technically, the film is impressive for a low-budget picture, as Coulter does a good job with period detail. The film's cinematography and production design also give the film a strong atmosphere, as well. The film smoothly moves between past and present and the time changes remain easy to follow.
This brand of noir mystery has been done before and better, but there's no doubt that, given the kind of fare that dominates the box office these dates, a well-made, old-fashioned picture like like is refreshing to see. Overall, "Hollywoodland" offers an interesting story (it's admittedly a little overlong), a terrific cast and stands as a solid motion picture debut from director Coulter.
VIDEO: "Hollywoodland" is presented by Universal in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is certainly one of the stronger presentations from the studio in recent memory, as the picture appeared consistently crisp and well-defined, bringing out every bit of the film's period detail.
The presentation does show some slight edge enhancement in a few scenes, but no print flaws were spotted, nor were any instances of pixelation. The print appeared spotless. The film's color palette appears richly and accurately reproduced here. Black level looked strong and flesh tones appeared accurate.
SOUND: A dialogue-driven mystery, it's not surprising that "Hollywoodland"'s sound design is pretty straightforward, with the rear speakers really only called upon to deliver some slight ambience and reinforcement of the score. Audio quality is perfectly fine, with crisp dialogue and a warm, full-sounding score.
EXTRAS: Commentary from director Allen Coulter, "Hollywood: Then and Now" featurette, "Re-Creating Old Hollywood" featurette and "Behind the Headlines" featurette. Finally, we get about 5 minutes of deleted scenes.
Final Thoughts: This brand of noir mystery has been done better, but there's no doubt that, given the kind of fare that dominates the box office these dates, a well-made, subtle, old-fashioned picture like like is refreshing to see. Overall, "Hollywoodland" offers an interesting story (it's admittedly a little overlong), a terrific cast and stands as a solid motion picture debut from director Coulter. The DVD edition offers very good audio/video quality and a nice set of extras. Recommended.
The Film B+