Hollywood. The place where dreams become reality.
In the 1920s, as the American moviemaking industry was establishing itself, the famed sign in Beverly Hills read "Hollywoodland." This was the very soil upon which movies and dreams were made. People flocked from all over to live there.
Soon the "land" was taken down. Maybe someone realized the dreams projected on the silver screen were transmutable, and they couldn't be as tangible as a plot of land. Or maybe they weren't selling the land of Hollywood, but rather its mindset. Regardless of why the "land" was removed, the sign became what we know today.
Even without the "land" in the title, people still flocked from all over the world, trying to become the next actor to live the dream and "make it big." "Hollywoodland" chronicles the journey of one such dreamer, a man named George Reeves (Ben Affleck). Along the way, he meets Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), a lover with more than enough cash to help him out. His career started off well as he nabs the role of TV's Superman, which propels him up those first few vital steps of the achievement ladder.
But you see, when a dream can be snatched away with a rejection letter, or felled as soon as a set is no longer needed, trying to hold onto anything can be very painful.
Reeves may have become Superman and achieved fame, but it wasn't enough for him. After Superman's cancellation, we see him burning his costume, ready for bigger and better opportunities to come his way. He just can't see, or didn't want to see, that his greatest moment had already passed.
Then he dies under mysterious circumstances.
Off to achieve dreams of his own is Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), a divorced father who makes a living by spying on cheating wives and the like. When Reeves's mother comes knocking, Simo knows he's got his greatest opportunity and isn't ready to let it slip through his fingers. Even the seedy side of L.A. is its own dream factory.
First time feature director Allen Coulter does a commendable job of balancing the flashbacks between Louis's investigation and Reeves's life. He makes some mistakes here by underutilizing the excellent Ms. Lane, mostly having her smiling at Mr. Affleck's side or crying in his absence. But, in general, Coulter did his film studies homework, and he pays subtle homage to the greats of noir detective stories, like Jack Nicholson in "Chinatown."
In the aftermath of "Good Will Hunting," Ben Affleck hasn't had any bright spots in his career, phoning it in at best and "Gigli-ing" it at worst. In "Hollywoodland," he begins to turn himself around, giving a calmly commanding performance that is probably his career best.
Similarly, Adrien Brody hasn't had much opportunity to lead a picture since his exemplary performance in "The Pianist." While his role is not as flashy as Mr Affleck's, his is the true lead of the film. Too often in American movies a great performance is equated with one that is loud and showy, but this is no litmus. As a private eye, Brody does not usurp the plot but supports it, doing it more justice than a scene-stealer would have.
Ultimately, "Hollywoodland" does not value chasing far-fetched dreams over an "ordinary" existence. Sure, being a star would feel amazing, standing in front of screaming fans, but it won't help you sleep at night. Rather than longing for what you do not have, appreciate what you do, whether that be a modest acting career or a young son. That is what matters; only Louis Simo learned it in time to make his amends.