"(R) Three stars
I grew up watching reruns of The Adventures of Superman and let me tell you, George Reeves was Superman. He didn’t quite look like the guy in the comic book; though handsome, his face was soft and a bit puffy, and the padded muscles built into his costume were less than convincing. None of that mattered, however, because Reeves had the part down cold. His Superman was clever and supremely confident, as he should be. He was serious when necessary, but good-humored as well. Magnanimous, really and, yes, a bit condescending at times.
Hey, if you were a nigh-invulnerable flying Kryptonian refugee turned protector of Earth, you’d likely be condescending from time to time as well.
Reeves also nailed the role of Clark Kent. The opening credits voice-over referred to Kent as “mild-mannered,” but Reeves portrayed him as a self-assured, fast-moving man of action. Sure, Kent did the mild-mannered shtick on occasion in order to slip away and change identities, but he was quite willing to kick a bad guy’s ass when necessary, thanks for asking.
George Reeves died in 1959, a year after The Adventures of Superman ended its original run. His death was ruled a suicide, and there were rumors that he died by jumping out of a window, either because he was despondent over the cancellation of the TV series, because he was despondent over being typecast, or because he flipped out and actually thought he could fly.
Truth is, he died of a gunshot wound. Some believed he was murdered, perhaps by an angry ex-girlfriend, perhaps by the angry husband of a woman he had an affair with.
Regardless of how George Reeves died, his story was interesting. An ambitious actor whose credits included such films as Gone with the Wind and From Here to Eternity, Reeves dreamt of being the leading man, but was consigned to play one of the friends of the leading man. The Superman show brought him fame, but not the kind of fame he wanted. And it brought him far less money than you would imagine. He was a ladies’ man who lived large. Then he died at the age of 45, naked and bloody.
Hollywoodland, which was titled Truth, Justice and the American Way until the Superman Returns lawyers said “Oh no, you don’t,” tells the story of George Reeves. Ben Affleck packed on a few pounds to play the role. He only looks like Reeves in a couple of scenes, but his performance feels like Reeves throughout.
Affleck, who knows what it’s like to be dismissed as a lightweight actor, does fine work here. He captures the breezy quality that made Reeves so likeable. He also nails the frustration, the despair, the weariness of a man whose dream is fading away.
Also impressive is Diane Lane as Toni Mannix, the dominant woman in Reeves’ love life, and Bob Hoskins as studio boss/ex-mobster Eddie Mannix, her husband. They maintain an open marriage, but he won’t stand for anyone who hurts his wife.
Hollywoodland is at its best when following the life of Reeves. Alas, the film spends just as much time examining his death, hopping back and forth between flashbacks depicting events in Reeves’ life and the efforts of private detective Louis Sano (Adrien Brody), hired by Reeves’ estranged mother (Lois Smith) to get the case reopened.
Sano’s life is nearly as screwed up as Reeves,’ which writer Paul Bernbaum and director Allen Coulter go to great pains to show us. What they fail to realize is that the structure they employ puts the mangy Sano in the foreground, thus relegating the life and the death of Reeves to the B-story. Even in his own movie, George Reeves doesn’t get to be the leading man. This may score points for the filmmakers in Ironyland, but it makes for a frustrating movie-going experience.