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Thursday, Sept. 7, 2006 04:15 am

Tinseltown tragedy

Hollywoodland benefits from intriguing story, strong performances

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HollywoodlandRunning Time: 2:06Rated R

If you haven’t already figured it out from the previews, the jumping-off point for Allen Coulter’s Hollywoodland is the 1959 death of Superman actor George Reeves (Ben Affleck). Many believe Reeves committed suicide, despondent over his stalled career and being typecast as the Man of Steel; others say there’s evidence he was murdered. In the film, Reeves’ mother (Lois Smith) hires private eye Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) to investigate her son’s death after getting less-than-satisfactory results from police.

Simo sets off on an odyssey into Hollywood’s seamiest corners, and, through a fragmented narrative, we see him piece the clues together to form three different but very plausible scenarios. Was the actor brought low by goons hired by studio head Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins) because Reeves was having an affair with his wife, Toni (Diane Lane)? Did Reeves’ fiancée, Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney), kill him, either accidentally or intentionally? Could it have been a suicide?

Each of these theories is credible, and Coulter does not tip his hand one way or another, leaving it up to the viewer to decide. Indeed, the film isn’t so much interested in solving the Reeves mystery as it is exposing Hollywood as a place where the movers and shakers wield their power ruthlessly and documenting the horrible effect it has on the players who want to make it in the movie business. As you might expect, Hoskins, Lane, and Brody all give solid performances: Hoskins makes the diminutive Mannix a man to be reckoned with and feared, Lane brings the proper combination of sexiness and poignancy to Toni, and Brody pulls off the proper world-weary tone as Simo, a man in over his head in far too many areas of his life. However, the big surprise here is Affleck, who, not charged with carrying the film, shines in this supporting role as a man trapped by the fame he so eagerly sought. He does himself proud here.

Hollywoodland is worth a look for its spot-on recreation of post-war Tinseltown, its intriguing storyline, and fine work from its cast of veterans.

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