The lingering ambiguity surrounding Reeves’ death is the engine behind Hollywoodland, the feature debuts of director Allen Coulter and writer Paul Bernbaum. Framed by an investigation pursued by private detective Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), Hollywoodland’s a dark bit of Tinsletown self-reflection, an indictment of the circuitry of corruption linking the Hollywood studios with the LAPD, and an ordinary story of one more lost soul chewed up and spit out by the movies.
Brody’s bruised and amused as a cynical opportunist, Jake Gittes with a broken family and without a real career. Ben Affleck convinces as Reeves by contrasting a self-conscious phoney actor’s charm with striking glimpses of inner despair, reminding us that he was actually pretty good as the guilt-ridden lover in the underrated Bounce. Diane Lane, playing Toni, a Warner mogul’s wife and Reeves’ not-so-secret sugar mama, sympathetically embodies middle-age desperation in a town where a woman’s looks count for almost everything. It’s a shame her character’s gradually abandoned to a sort of generalized, theatrical gloom, muttering in a darkened room.
This is the stuff that terrifically lurid movies are made of, but Bernbaum’s approach, in tandem with Coulter’s, sabotages the richer, more resonant aspects of the material by focusing on the attempt to expose a possible cover-up –which goes nowhere– rather than on the conditions that brought about Reeves’ demise. It’s especially disappointing considering the talent in front of the camera. (At the same time, the nowhereness of the film is what's stuck with me the most since seeing it....)
Hollywoodland looks like it got stuck searching for a solid narrative when its sense of atmosphere and emotional texture could have been its strong suit. It’s interesting however that this failed narrative was trying to emulate the wonderfully perverse dynamics of Sunset Blvd: the older woman supporting the washed up talent while actually doing nothing for his career, that unforgettable claustrophobic love affair referenced right down to the message Toni has inscribed into Reeves’ watch: ‘Mad About the Boy!’ It’s an admirable sort of homage, even if it only makes Hollywoodland look even paler by comparison.