The stars were glamorous, everyone was under contract and the studio was God. It was the golden age of Hollywood, and it came with a dark side as grimy as its fame was bright.

Morgan Morel
Courtesy of Focus

“Hollwoodland” shreds to pieces any notion of easy stardom. Instead, it’s a cautionary tale with the period shades of “L.A. Confidential,” following private eye Louis Simo’s (Adrian Brody, “The Pianist”) investigation into the apparent suicide of TV’s Superman, George Reeves (Ben Affleck).

As Simo delves deeper into the real-life case, he discovers Reeve’s backstory and life in Hollywood, though the two storylines, part crime noir and part tragedy, play at times like two different films. In the end, they both feel unresolved.

Historically, Reeves had a fairly successful career. He landed his first speaking role in “Gone With The Wind,” but was always a bit actor with eyes for bigger things. Eventually achieving national celebrity as the small-screen Superman and with another small part in “Here to Eternity,” Reeves had a career many with a Hollywood dream would die to have.

Even Reeves’s agent admits to Simo that Reeves’s career “should have been enough for a life,” but Reeves always continued to look toward the silver screen.

Brody’s Simo proves a big stumbling block, coming off as both morally questionable and a complete stereotype, right down to his over-the-top New York accent. A divorcee and a distant father, he leads on a suspicious husband so he can keep cashing his check and even stages pictures with Reeves’s mother to get in the papers.

Reeves, meanwhile, makes up the bulk of the other story, and Affleck is, surprisingly, quite remarkable in fleshing him out. Affleck’s recent credibility has been dubious at best, but he and Lane light up the screen together in a doomed affair with palpable chemistry.

Lane’s powerful Toni Mannix makes for a compelling character in her own right, a modern-minded woman in the conservative ’50s capable of simultaneously taking both her husband and her lover out to lunch. But Affleck stars as the one to watch, giving Reeves the doomed countenance of a man who knows he will only be around as long as he can be of some use. His mysterious death only deepens the sense of isolation those closest to him felt.

Hollywood can be a dark place, and the film portrays its underbelly in appropriately gruesome manner. Reeves felt the strain. Whether he killed himself in desperation or fell victim to someone else’s hunger for power, his tragedy is just one of the many in Hollywood’s golden age.

Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

At the Michigan Theater, Showcase and Quality 16

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