True crime? Not in 'Hollywoodland'
'Hollywoodland," which stars Adrien Brody and Ben Affleck, takes off from the 1959 newspaper headline that upset an entire generation of kids: "TV Superhero, Out of Work, Kills Self." The superhero was George Reeves, star of "Adventures of Superman," but did he really shoot himself, as officially determined, or was it an accident – or even murder?
There have been almost as many theories about Reeves's death as there have been about another notorious Hollywood case, the Black Dahlia murder. (The Dahlia story has also been turned into a movie, directed by Brian De Palma and opens next week. This must be the season for true crime in LaLa Land.)
For "Hollywoodland," the decision was made to focus on the three likeliest explanations for Reeves's death and then dramatize how each might hypothetically have occurred. For true crime completists, this approach may seem like an embarrassment of riches, but for most of us the results are unsatisfying. Instead of homing in on a particular theory, the filmmakers leave it to us to sort out.
This might not be so bad if the various scenarios had some believability. But they come across as so pulpy that I didn't trust any of them. I'm not asking the filmmakers to solve the case, but the solutions they put onscreen should at least hold water. "Hollywoodland" has too many leaks.
The movie is also too ambitious for its own good. Brody plays a low-rent private detective, Louis Simo, who convinces Reeves's mother that there has been a coverup about her son's death that only he can expose. As Simo's story is played out in all its sordid detail, the filmmakers intercut flashbacks of Reeves's movie-colony lifestyle. The two men's up-and-down existences are given a parallel, and highly contrived, trajectory.