Monday, November 20, 2006
The wacky miscasting of Adrien Brody as a dissolute gumshoe, which almost every review I’d read, good and bad, had suggested was this film’s biggest mistake, turns out to be not only the least of its problems but, to me, its sole point of peripheral interest. I’m certainly not going along with the “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Ben Affleck acting!” wave of praise, since the latter’s job — playing 1950s TV Superman George Reeves, found dead at the film’s start, as a tragic washout — is just the easiest excuse ever for an obviously limited star to cash in on his shortcomings. Nor did I have much time for an ineffectually brittle Diane Lane as his mistress, the wife of a sinister studio chief (Bob Hoskins), because director Allen Coulter has even less, virtually complicit with faithless George in his decision to underlight her big woman-spurned monologue, quite brutally, and thus deny her an affecting sign-off of any kind. The movie achieves no pathos for Affleck or Lane’s characters even when it thinks it does, and its aim — to dredge up and make us really feel the linked tragedies of a couple of has-been celebrities — is undone by your discovery, within minutes, that it’s a has-been in itself, lifeless and grey on the slab.
No, the only spark of curiosity for me was watching Brody collude in the flimsy pretence that he’s in some way “investigating” Reeves’s death, when the interspersed flashbacks bear little or no relation to any clues he’s actually finding, conversations he’s having, or anything much in the framing sequences at all. What’s the point of his case? I couldn’t find one, until — wait for it, fans of tenuous metatextual games for critics with nothing better to do — the suggestion that Reeves had his role in From Here to Eternity snipped to shreds put me in mind of Brody’s similar fate on The Thin Red Line, another James Jones adaptation. I’m not done: Brody’s dismissive treatment of sheepish cop Dash Mihok, who beat him with a larger if still minor role in Malick’s film, encouraged me yet further in my utter boredom to read Hollywoodland as in fact its misplaced leading man’s smirking idea of comeuppance, now that he’s got his Oscar. The film is devoid, after all, of plausible notions elsewhere about how movie stars are meant to manage their careers, and try as I might I could find no other workable point of connection between Brody’s Louis Simo and the pitiful Affleck-as-Reeves. If Brody keeps signalling his superiority to the material, as I’ve read in plenty of other reviews, it’s because he is superior to it, and heaven knows I’d rather be watching him flirt gamely with his own miscasting than anyone — Daniel Craig? — trying on a Ralph Meeker impression in a manner you could call apropos for such a silly part. I can’t recommend Hollywoodland in the slightest, really, but I have a feeling I’ll always look back on this particular inglorious moment as Brody’s graduation to fully-fledged stardom. Stardom and all the lunacy and industrial compromise that term entails — not because he's very suitable for this non-role in an insultingly drab period mystery, but because he’s so unmissably wrong and steals it anyway. D