Hollywoodland is like an unmasking of the American Dream in microcosm: it takes as its subject the true story of actor George Reeves who hit the heights playing Superman in the 1950s, but who was found dead in his apartment in the Hollywood hills. The verdict? Suicide.
Adrien Brody plays aspiring gumshoe detective Louis Simo in the film, a chancer who wants to make it big on the back of solving a dazzling case. Following a lead, he delves into a murky past uncovering more than he bargained for, as he discovers a torrid relationship between Reeves (played by Ben Affleck) and older woman Toni Mannix (played thrillingly by Diane Lane) which might just suggest that suicide may not have been a safe verdict and perhaps murder might have been a better one. Suspicions are certainly heightened when Toni's husband Edgar, a coldly ambitious big-cheese MGM studio executive (Bob Hoskins) enters the frame.
You find yourself then in two worlds as the film explores Simo's attempts to get closer to the truth and the world of George Reeves, an actor who seemingly had everything going for him.
In many ways, Hollywoodland has echoes of films like The Black Dahlia and it's no surprise that director Allen Coulter's arresting directorial debut has been compared to the work of James Ellroy. Strangely nearly 50 years on, speculation continues to surround George Reeves' death.
Director Allen Coulter was attracted to the script (written by screenwriter Paul Bernbaum) for a number of reasons. "It was smart, well-written, a tale of two men who want to be someone other than they are. It's also a unique take on a great period - from the heyday of the movies through the impact of early television. I felt that hadn't really been explored in a serious story before, and I found that the minute I finished reading it, I was calling my agent."
What was it particularly about the script that he found to be truly attractive?
"The stories reverberate around each other and as a result both storylines are enriched as a result. Both men (meaning Simo and Reeves) are too caught up in a Hollywood dream to appreciate what they have and what is authentic in their lives."
In many ways is gumshoe detective Simo's task of unravelling the truth, a voyage of self-discovery?
"Yes that's right," Coulter confirms. "Simo's journey of discovering George's story grants him a new perspective on life. Both men are less of a star in their respective fields. They want to be more of one though and they believe that success will legitimize their very being in the eyes of the world, and through doing that, in their own eyes as well."
You get the impression that director and producer Coulter had enormous respect and compassion for both men.
"That's true, I do," Coulter agrees, "for Simo at the start, it's just a gig, a money job but as the film progresses, he becomes more engrossed in Reeves' life and he starts to give a damn. He realizes 'there but for the grace of God go I."
Coulter continues. "As for George Reeves, in my opinion he suffered from feeling that he never got to fulfill all of his possibilities as an actor. He was very troubled by the perception that people had of him, that they were not seeing him as a serious actor but just the guy who played Superman. We hope in bringing this story to the screen that we can point people towards the proper place that Reeves occupies in Hollywood history."
What of his cast - what did Coulter see in actors like Ben Affleck and Adrien Brody to feel that they alone were right for the parts?
"Ben Affleck's respect for George Reeves as a human being is huge," Coulter declares. "He got heavily involved in researching Reeves from the beginning and became deeply engaged in playing him and in paying him tribute. Ben understands things about George - there are a number of traits that they share. We felt Reeves mut have been a very likeable man, Ben Affleck is too - and even though they're separated, decades apart - Ben knows a thing or two about being vulnerable as an actor in Hollywood."
"The part of Simo meanwhile, required an actor who could be both charming and sexy at the same time, together with an air of intensity and danger. Adrien for us was the exceptional actor we needed for the part."
And what of Diane Lane who so superbly brings out the passionate longing that lay behind Toni Mannix? "In several of her movies," Allen explains, "Diane has played women who are driven by emotions beyond their control. In Hollywoodland, you could easily say that's also true of Toni, but this woman is also tougher and gutsier than most. Diane is a strong actress and had shown a tougher quality in some of her other movies and with this role she had a chance to explore that more."
Besides the mystery that shrouded Reeves's untimely death (and writer Bernbaum chose to explore all the possibilities of what might have happened) what really makes Hollywoodland stand out is the fact that like other films that explore the underbelly of Tinseltown, you become persuaded all too easily that this is a world that sometimes promises more than it delivers, that all that glitters is not necessarily gold.
Coulter comments on that finally. "Ours is a darker version of what one might expect to see. I researched that part of the patina of glamour that was fostered by the studios, to create a world of fantasy that everybody could look up to. We're peeling back the layers, to show people who had personal dramas, people who found that ultimately, their nice clothes didn't protect them."