A Hollywood actor who fails to live up to his early potential and is forced to take a series of demeaning jobs that taint him in the eyes of the fickle general public? So what exactly drew Ben Affleck to the role of George Reeves, the small-screen Man Of Steel whose unexplained death remains one of Tinseltown’s most tawdry, tantalising mysteries?
Granted, even after the ‘Bennifer’ frenzy and such cinematic stink-bombs as Paycheck, Jersey Girl and Surviving Christmas, Affleck never sank so low as to consider self-administered career/life termination. Instead, the man who would be Gigli has pulled off that most remarkable of feats: a mid-career re-invention that has already seen him land a Best Actor gong at Venice.
Slicking back his hair, piling on the pounds and letting shafts of shame, doubt and self-loathing peek out from behind that smugly handsome mug, Affleck is nothing short of a revelation in Allen Coulter’s compelling look at how Reeves’ own career slumped from the glory of a supporting role in Gone With The Wind to the ignominy of prancing around with a huge ‘S’ on his chest. Revealing an emotional maturity once thought far beyond his abilities, the 34-year-old makes a virtue of his own tabloid notoriety while simultaneously putting it behind him. En route he reminds us why we liked him in the first place – back when Pearl Harbor was still just a military disaster, rather than a cinematic one.
As much as Affleck’s performance wows, though, all is not grand in Hollywoodland. For starters, Coulter and writer Paul Bernbaum play fast and loose with Babylon lore, most heinously by implying that Reeves’ TV fame saw his role in From Here To Eternity trimmed (not true). They also clutter their drama with an ill-considered framing device that, in having Reeves’ untimely death probed by Adrien Brody’s low-rent shamus, begs unflattering comparisons with Citizen Kane.
The result is a broken-backed affair but it at least keeps viewers guessing as to whether Reeves died by his own hand, was shot accidentally by his younger girlfriend (Robin Tunney) or was murdered at the behest of cuckolded exec Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins).
It’s the plot strand which features Hoskins that provides Affleck’s biggest competition in the thesping stakes. It comes in the form of the fabulous Diane Lane, investing the role of Hoskins’ wife with the vampy sultriness of a latter-day Ava Gardner. In her stinging response to Reeves’ defence of Tunney, she also gets the movie’s – and possibly the year’s – most memorable line: “Does she blow smoke rings with her cunt?” (She doesn’t.)