Monday, September 25, 2006

Hollywoodland (Particle Man)

“Who killed George Reeves?” That’s the question from the first shot of Hollywoodland, which begins like a good Law and Order episode. It was actually ruled a suicide, but from first seeing the crime scene, we’re going “yeah, that’s a likely story.” So the entire time there’s this question, sometimes in the back of our minds, sometimes in the front. The movie isn’t completely about the question, but it remains just the same, even at the end. “Who killed George Reeves?”

Hollywoodland is a very smart and tight mystery, a movie that harkens back to the era of film noir. It takes place in the ‘50s, and you almost think you’re watching an archival print from that time period. The movie’s earthy sepia tones capture the grandeur and splendor of Hollywood, and give just a hint of its seedy underbelly. Like in a James Ellroy novel (which The Black Dahlia, another ‘50s murder mystery and the other half of TMBC’s Movie of the Month, actually is), its vernacular and flow are unique to that region and time period. Hollywoodland lets you know what it is from the get-go, and transplants you into the necessary frame of mind to really enjoy it.

It starts with the death of George Reeves, but actually centers on a detective named Louis Simo, played by Adrien Brody, a private investigator who lives on the next paycheck, the next case, the next opportunity. As cliché as he seems at first look, he has an ex-wife and a young son who loves Superman, the character played by the recently deceased Reeves. He gets a tip on the case from a friend in the LAPD, and eventually gets hired by Reeves’ mother, since she doesn’t think it was suicide, or maybe doesn’t want to believe it. At first it’s just a paycheck, but Louis gets fascinated (and later obsessed) when the details don’t really add up. The detectives investigating the case for the city think he’s a joke, so he plays up his theories to the papers. The case gets more and more complicated, as does Louis’s life, and we’re eventually left without knowing for sure whether it was suicide or murder, just like the real LAPD officers. Oddly enough, though, we don’t really mind.

At the same time, we get the story of George Reeves, played by Ben Affleck with a fantastically un-Affleck-like charm. He was able to step outside the Ben I had heard about ad nauseum in the media for the last few years, and that might have been because of the fact that he was playing a real person. Reeves gets romantically involved with Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), wife of MGM executive and near-mobster Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins). Apparently Eddie has given his blessing for Toni to run around on him, and George even has dinner with the Mannixes and Eddie’s girlfriend, who amusingly doesn’t speak any English. In a Rashamon style, we get glimpses into what could have happened the night Reeves died, and we go down different avenues as new characters are introduced. That approach isn’t taken as much anymore, and it’s refreshing to see it used.

The fascinating thing is that while the movie revolves around the death of George Reeves, it’s not totally about that. It’s also about what the event did both to the people at large, and to one man who became obsessed with it. Louis’s son burned his Superman outfit in effigy on his mother’s couch, and he also saw how the case affected his father. In a way, the movie is about the nature of obsession. Nevertheless, there is still this slightly burning question: “Who killed George Reeves?” The world may never know.

Iconic lines:
“Does she blow smoke rings with her c***?
“Nobody asks to be happy later.”

22 Rating: 12

Particle Man

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