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Hollywoodland garish

Observer Scene | Wednesday, September 13, 2006

When “L.A. Confidential” was released in 1997, it was hailed as the rebirth of the noir film. “Hollywoodland,” released last weekend, could very well be the death of it.

Directed by Allen Coulter, who has directed episodes of both “Sex and the City” and “The Sopranos” among many other shows including “The X Files” and “Golden Years” in a prolific directorial career, “Hollywoodland” is a bloated monstrosity of a movie that cannot decide what it wants to be about.

Paul Bernbaum’s script moves through a detective story in which private investigator Louis Simo (Adrien Brody, “The Piano”) digs deep into the mysterious death of Superman actor George Reeves (Ben Affleck, “Pearl Harbor”, Daredevil”).

However, “Hollywoodland” is a film that does not know who or what it wants to be about.

It follows Simo through his investigation in such a way as to make the audience think that “Hollywoodland” is about this character as the script takes great pains to explore the intricacies of Simo and the relationship he has with his dysfunctional family.

His relationships with his wife, Toni Mannix (Diane Lane, “Unfaithful”, “Under the Tuscan Sun”) – with whom he is separated – and his son are explored in depth and seem to provide the backbone of the narrative.

However, the film does not follow this narrative line and denies the audience a story that develops and portrays a singular character.

Contrasting this, “Hollywoodland” moves back in time following the life of George Reeves before his death, as Simo investigates the death in the present time of the narrative. The time of the film that is devoted to these sections would make it seem that the primary focus of the film is the rise and fall of Reeves.

His life is traced from his beginning in the industry through the television serials of “Superman” through his fall and eventual death. Reeves’ character, similar to Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull,” moves to the top of his profession and then falls hard into a depression and a misguidance meant to explore the cut-throat nature that exist in the glamour and glitz of Hollywood.

The two lines of narrative, by themselves, are told relatively well, however, the writer and director should have chosen either to focus on one or figure out a way to merge both. The combination of the two leads to a confusing and aimless narrative.

The family situations seem irrelevant if Reeves is intended to be the center of the narrative and the scenes which depict Reeves before his death are excessive if Simo is the focus of the film. The narrative is mediocre and does not endow audiences with the same satisfaction of “L.A. Confidential,” with its ensemble cast and tight narrative focus.

Narrative structure aside, Adrien Brody and Ben Affleck put in fine performances in their respective characters. This is by far the best performance that Affleck has produced and it would be no surprise if his name is on the Academy Award’s list of Best Supporting Actor nominees, given the Best Actor Award he already won at the Venice Film Festival.

Brody also delivers a very fine performance as the troubled detective Simo. Although not as outstanding as Affleck, Brody’s acting is solid nonetheless, in keeping with his propensity to deliver fine performances throughout his career.

The fact the narrative of “Hollywoodland” does not follow typical noir conventions may have been an effort to create a film that deals with the dark side of celebrity without being an outright sequel to “L.A. Confidential.”

However, the corpulent narrative relies too heavily on Brody and, as fine an actor as he is, it collapses under its own weight. This would have been better as a character film about Simo or a murder mystery about Reeves, but it can’t be both.

If you want good neo-noir, go watch “L.A. Confidential,” and if you want to see some amazing performances go to waste on a bad narrative, watch “Hollywoodland.”