In June 1959, Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), a Los Angeles private investigator more interested in generating an income than in devotion to his clients, is spying on the wife of a man named Chester Sinclair to find if she is cheating. On a visit to his own ex-wife Laurie, Simo learns that his son is upset over the recent death of actor George Reeves, who played Superman on television. Reeves was found dead inside his Beverly Hills home with a gunshot wound to the head, which police ruled a suicide.
Simo learns from a former police colleague that the Reeves suicide has aspects that the cops don't want to touch. Sensing the potential for making a name for himself, Simo begins investigating and notes several apparent conflicts with the official version of Reeves's death. He also bickers with Laurie over his failures as a father, particularly now when his son seems so troubled.
Years previously, in 1951, Reeves (Ben Affleck) is a charming man whose acting career has stalled since appearing in Gone with the Wind. He catches the eye of a beautiful woman and they end the night in each other's arms. In the morning, a newspaper photo reveals to Reeves that the woman is Toni Mannix, the wife of Eddie Mannix, the general manager of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Frightened that an affair with a studio boss's wife will destroy what is left of his career, Reeves is angry that Toni did not tell him. She claims to have an open relationship with Mannix and tells him not to worry. The much wealthier Toni begins to buy Reeves expensive gifts such as a house, a car and jewelry.
Reeves lands the starring role in the television series Adventures of Superman, based on the comic book hero. The role makes Reeves famous and gives him a steady income, but he longs for more "serious" work and is uncomfortable with the public's stereotype of him as Superman, resulting in snickers when he is seen on screen in the war film From Here to Eternity.
As the years pass, Reeves becomes bitter at being a kept man and at Toni for not using her clout to help his career. He barbeques his Superman costume to "celebrate" the program's cancellation in 1958. He also meets a young woman in New York City, actress Leonore Lemmon, and leaves Toni for her. Toni is broken hearted and furious and seethes at her "mistreatment" by Reeves.
Simo initially suspects that Leonore might have accidentally shot Reeves during an argument and imagines how the scenario might have played out. Simo is beaten at his home by thugs, apparently working for Mannix, who are trying to scare him off the case. This and other evidence leads Simo to suspect that Mannix was the one who had Reeves murdered. Simo has a vision of how that killing would have occurred.
Sinclair murders his wife, having grown impatient waiting for Simo's report. A guilt-plagued Simo gets drunk, then visits his son's school, where his inebriation scares the boy. Simo visits Reeves' manager, Arthur Weissman, who has a home movie that Reeves shot to promote some wrestling work. Reeves' sadness and disappointment with his life is on display in the footage. Simo's final imagined variation on Reeves' death concludes with the actor shooting himself. This is the most vivid of the three scenarios, and Simo imagines himself in the upstairs bedroom watching the suicide.
Each of the scenes imagined by Simo begins with Reeves playing guitar and singing "Aquellos Ojos Verdes (Green Eyes)" in Spanish for his house guests. After each of the three imagined renditions, Reeves says goodnight to his guests, then retires to his bedroom upstairs, just before the gunshot.
Reeves' quest for success and Simo's realization of parallels to his own existence cause the detective to re-evaluate his life. Simo watches another home movie, this one of himself and Laurie and their son in happier days. He goes to Laurie's house wearing a suit and tie, greeting his son hopefully.Adrien Brody as Louis Simo
Diane Lane as Toni Mannix
Ben Affleck as George Reeves
Bob Hoskins as Eddie Mannix
Robin Tunney as Leonore Lemmon
Kathleen Robertson as Carol Van Ronkel
Lois Smith as Helen Bessolo
Larry Cedar as Chester Sinclair
Caroline Dhavernas as Kit Holliday
Kevin Hare as Robert Condon
Molly Parker as Laurie Simo
Zach Mills as Evan Simo
Neil Crone as Chuck
Seamus Dever as Phillip
Gareth Williams as Del
Dash Mihok as Det. Sgt. Jack Paterson
Veronica Watt as Rita Hayworth
Joe Spano as Howard Strickling
Jeffrey DeMunn as Art Weissman
Focus Features acquired a spec script written by Paul Bernbaum in December 2001 titled Truth, Justice, and the American Way. They courted Michael and Mark Polish to direct, with Diane Lane attached to costar, but Focus placed the film in turnaround in June 2002. Miramax Films picked up the rights and hoped for the Polish brothers to begin filming that year with Benicio del Toro as the potential lead, a role also considered for Joaquin Phoenix. Kyle MacLachlan was in the running to play George Reeves, after an audition and having worked with the Polish brothers on Northfork, while Hugh Jackman, Colin Firth and Mark Ruffalo were reportedly the top contenders. However, the Polish brothers were replaced with television director Allen Coulter over creative differences. Filming was pushed back to April 2004, and Del Toro was still attached to the lead role, pending script revisions. Ben Affleck, Dennis Quaid and Viggo Mortensen were added to the list of actors under consideration for George Reeves, alongside Sharon Stone and Annette Bening for Toni Mannix. The film was finally greenlit when the project moved back to Focus Features in 2005, and Howard Korder was brought on to an unaccredited rewrite of Bernbaum's script.
Adrien Brody was cast as Louis Simo and Affleck eventually won the supporting role of Reeves. He saw Truth, Justice, and the American Way as an opportunity to disassociate himself from the many big budget action films he had been starring in. It marked his first leading or supporting role in a film in two years. “I was really unhappy finding myself perpetually in the sights of paparazzi cameras and in the gossip magazines. This character was broken, but he’s also the archetype of all those kinds of guys I had played — the actual, real version, which is damaged and somehow unhappy and trying to be something other than what he is. And to me that made it infinitely more interesting.” Affleck watched all 108 episodes of the Adventures of Superman, met with Jack Larson, the actor who portrayed Jimmy Olsen in the TV show, read various books about Reeves' life and death, and gained 20 pounds to closely resemble the actor with contact lenses and subtle use of facial prosthesis. In addition he listened to hours of Reeves' voice on CD so he could get the same intonations and timbre. Filming began in Toronto, Canada in May 2005.
During its production, Hollywoodland went through many rounds of getting clearance from Warner Bros. Pictures to use different aspects of Reeves's Superman persona to reflect the actual nature of his career. Time Warner is the parent company of both Warner Bros. and DC Comics and as such has all final say in the depiction of characters relating to their properties. The film's first title was Truth, Justice, and the American Way, Superman's well-known patriotic catchphrase, but Warner Bros. threatened legal action unless the film's title was changed so as not to associate the classic slogan with Reeves's death—especially since Warner Bros. was banking the film Superman Returns which was released a few months earlier in June 2006. The filmmakers changed the title to Hollywoodland, not as a reflection of the ailing Hollywood Sign, but in reference to the general milieu of "movieland" itself. The filmmakers wished to use the familiar filmed opening of Adventures of Superman in context within Hollywoodland, but Warner Bros. refused to license clips from the show itself. The movie recreated the show's opening and substituted a re-recorded version of the opening theme.
Hollywoodland takes liberties with actual historical events for dramatic purposes. Several events and places are condensed to fit into the film, including:The film states that if the first season of Adventures of Superman was successful, they would film in color the second season. The series did not film in color until the third season.
During a personal appearance at a children's western show, George Reeves meets a boy with a loaded gun, who almost shoots bullets at him. Reeves talks him into giving up the gun by saying that they would bounce off him, but hurt innocent bystanders. Although Reeves repeated this story himself, researchers have never been able to find anything to corroborate the story.
The depiction of Reeves's scenes in From Here to Eternity suffering audience derision at a test screening (and subsequent cutting of his scenes) is part of an urban legend. No test screenings took place, and the finished film includes all Reeves's scenes that were present in the original shooting script. No alternate cuts of the film have ever been proven to exist.
Hollywoodland received generally positive reviews, garnering a 68% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Ben Affleck earned the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival for his portrayal as George Reeves. He was also nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, but lost to Eddie Murphy for his performance in Dreamgirls.
Hoskins and Lane have also been applauded for their performances. Critics at The Wall Street Journal and Vanity Fair called this film and 2005's Brokeback Mountain (also from Focus Features) Oscar contenders, but the film never received any Oscar nominations.
The film debuted at #2 at the box office. Shot on a budget of $28 million Hollywoodland grossed $14,426,251 in the United States as of October 26, 2006. A further foreign gross of $1,878,000, plus $9,140,000 in DVD rentals and a spot in the top ten DVD sales for its first three weeks of release.