It’s 1936 and shy 7-year-old Moncho (Manuel Lozano) feels painfully out
of place in his Galician village until a kindly schoolteacher (Fernando
Fernán Gómez) takes him under his wing inspiring in the youngster a
love for nature and poetry. But the exciting New World that opens up
before Moncho’s eyes is soon threatened by the dark tide of fascism
rising around him.
Perfect casting from the awkwardly adorable Lozano to renowned Spanish
national treasure Fernán Gomez does much of the work for the
filmmakers. Uxía Blanco and Gonzalo Uriarte also make strong impressions
as Moncho’s parents whose divided loyalties (hers to the Church his to
the Republic) are played subtly at first but become increasingly evident
as the political atmosphere intensifies. In the end though it’s Fernán
Gómez’s youthful energy and quiet dignity that give the film its soul.
Director-producer José Luis Cuerda creates a magical world in which
fable-like episodes such as a romantic interlude between Moncho’s older
brother and a mute Chinese woman seem perfectly believable then
seamlessly makes the difficult transition to the more serious tone of
the last section. At times he loses his grip on the loose-jointed
narrative but all that is forgotten when he gets to the brutally honest
finish a masterfully set-up sequence as unexpected as it is inevitable.
Attempting to delve into one of Tinseltown’s most curious scandals--the mysterious suicide (or was it?) of the original TV Superman actor George Reeves--the story begins after Reeves (Ben Affleck) is found dead of a seemingly self-inflicted gunshot wound during a late night party in his Benedict Canyon home. The case then unfolds through the eyes of Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) a street-smart publicity hungry private dick hired by Reeves’ grieving mother. As Simo slowly peels back the layers of Reeves’ seemingly glamorous life he discovers an actor of charm talent and sophistication whose every opportunity for a big break fizzled forcing him to lead a frustrated existence slumming in the superhero show he deemed beneath him. Gradually identifying with Reeves’ failed expectations for himself Simo discovers a host of candidates who may have actually pulled the trigger on the actor including his young party girl paramour (Robin Tunney) his longtime lover and patron (Diane Lane) and his lover’s husband a powerfully connected studio “fixer” (Bob Hoskins). It is Brody not Affleck who carries the bulk of the film on his shoulders and the Oscar winner delivers a finely etched turn as Simo who’s fractured potential mirrors Reeves’ but quite simply Simo’s story isn’t nearly as dark or engaging as Reeves’ life or the mystery surrounding his death. Affleck an actor who has had his share of ups downs duds and disappointments in Hollywood delivers one of his most charming and fully realized performances to date even if his spot-on recreation of Reeves’ speech pattern is a bit distracting. The luminous Lane’s acting talents remain in full blossom in a character she’s well-suited to play—the aging beauty fearing the road ahead—and she commands every scene she’s in. Unfortunately there should have been many many more of them. She’s almost criminally underused. Hoskins more menacing then ever and the reliable stable of supporting players like Joe Spano are all top-notch as well; only Tunney apparently trying to channel both Betty Boop and Bette Davis simultaneously seems a bit off her game as the wannabe femme fatale. Best known for his strong turns helming many of the best episodes of television series such as The Sopranos Sex and the City and Six Feet Under first time feature director Allen Coulter’s cool assured hand and meticulous recreation of Cold War Los Angeles are major bonuses here. Even when Simo’s story sags in comparison to Reeves’ Coulter keeps us interested particularly when staging the Rashomon-like sequences depicting the various theories behind Reeves’ demise. But by skimping on Reeves’ story in favor of a less compelling fictional framework built around a private detective investigating the case we never see one key suspect’s possible murder scenario enacted visually and it comes off as a glaring omission.