The creators of Hollywoodland have styled the movie as neonoir—complete with a mysterious death, a bottom-feeding private detective, and several untrustworthy women—but those trappings aren’t really the point of the film. Despite feints in that direction, it’s not a murder mystery. It’s the sad tale of two lonely people whose lives don’t match their dreams. It’s about soul-crushing disappointment and the relentless indignities of aging. It’s about mortality.
That’s a lot to pack into the small, pitiable history of George Reeves, an actor who aspired to the realm of Hollywood stars but who foundered playing Superman in the trenches of kiddie television, but the film works surprisingly well. The screenplay is perceptive, the period detail is immersive without being ostentatious, and the strong cast boasts two remarkable performances: Ben Affleck is startlingly good as Reeves—this is the best work he’s ever done—and Diane Lane beautifully captures the complexities and contradictions of the unhappy Toni Mannix, Reeves’ older, wealthier, married lover.