Almost a Great Movie.
For the first two hours I thought it a mildly interesting flick. Then with a few short scenes in a ten-minute span the threads of the theme come together at once, exposing surprising depths of meaning. I was knocked back in my seat. "Whoa! There's more to this. A lot more."
I'm sure many people who see the movie won't understand it. The meaning is conveyed in a subtle way. Once it's noticed it seems obvious-- yet few film critics if any have remarked upon it. (Those at the Venice Film Festival must've understood it.)
The movie starts slowly. The detective played by Adrien Brody is an unlikeable character, until more is revealed about his background. I came to identify with him as he comes up against the mindless strength of a monolithic industry. A studio p.r. chief tells him that what matters is not what's true or false, but what's good for the business. (See a parallel anyplace?)
The acting is superb, notably by Diane Lane; Joe Spano; by the woman who plays the final girlfriend; and by whoever plays the agent of George Reeves; the agent whose sudden lit-up smile and words give away the game.
Oh, and what of Ben Affleck, who plays 50's TV "Superman" Reeves? The film after all isn't much of a film noir. There's not a lot of action. It's a character study of Reeves. At the same time it's a study of a civilization.
Affleck's performance is masterful. The "home movie" footage of him at the end reveals something of the mystery of the plot, maybe. It gives away the mystery of the theme, which is America itself.
America! That mythic name, representing the ultimate dreamland civilization. It's as magical a name as that of Atlantis; representing so much more than a mere physical landscape. One has to understand that, to understand the best American art, including great American novels like The Octopus or The Great Gatsby.
The movie's characters are effective in themselves, but also effective as symbols. Affleck as Reeves represents America: beefy, clunky, hypocritical, simple, and amazingly idealistic. Reeve's death in 1959 represents the end of the 50's, the death of American innocence. This is expressed by the other home movie shown at the end, that of the detective's young son.
We never stop our cycle of idealism and disillusion, do we? With every generation the cycle begins again. We want the American dream to be real. We cling to it desperately, fighting for it in our different ways for all of our lives. It's what it means to be American; what's best and worst about us at the same time.