A minor Hollywood actor, worn down by disappointment, dies of gunshot wounds in mysterious circumstances. Possibly suicide, possibly not. Put like that, it sounds like just another Tinseltown footnote, but when the stiff is George Reeves, who made his name as Superman in the famous ’50s TV series, suddenly you have a story ripe with dramatic irony. Ben Affleck might seem unlikely casting, but with a few jowly pounds added for the occasion, he skilfully and, yes, touchingly conveys the tragedy of a man drowning in the realisation of his own mediocrity. There’s an awards-calibre performance here, but unfortunately, the movie makes you root around for it by giving equal weight to the travails of a down-at-heel private eye (Adrien Brody) turning a buck by investigating Reeves’ demise. We’re supposed to shape connections between their fates, but the gumshoe material is so stodgy we end up waiting for the flashbacks, in which Reeves’ liaison with the adulterous wife (an excellent Diane Lane) of a top MGM executive and his typecast celebrity each limit his prospects.
There’s a drip-feed of melancholy here which builds to a pensive finale, and it’s rare to find an American movie concerning itself with failure, yet experienced HBO director Allen Coulter’s big-screen debut is only half-accomplished, its faults of over-deliberate pacing and overlong scenes indicative of its maker’s awkward transition from television. Still, it’s worth seeing for Affleck alone, deftly communicating the distance between the put-on cardboard debonairness of this hunk-about-town and the gnawing uncertainties beneath his Superman outfit.