Overlooked in the Oscar nominations, 'Hollywoodland' has been harshly denied a seat at the Kodak Theatre. The powers-that-be in Los Angeles clearly don't like some of its subjects shedding light on some of the darker sides of their kingdom.

The movie is an account of the final years of actor George Reeves (Affleck). Reeves is best remembered as the man who brought comic character Superman to life in the long-running 1950s television serial 'Adventures of Superman'. Though a hero among American children, the actor sought, but never found, big screen recognition.

He had a long affair with Toni Mannix (Lane), who was wife of Eddie Mannix, the then general manager of film studio MGM. The affair was sanctioned by the husband, and Toni even bought her lover a home in the Hollywood hills. However, the relationship eventually turned sour as Reeves, eight years the ex-showgirl's junior, believed it was hindering, rather than accelerating, his progress.

Reeves died in his Benedict Canyon home on 16 June, 1959, as a result of a single gunshot to the head. It brought an end to the life of a deeply troubled man and left the legacy of one of Hollywood's most enduring mysteries. Widely reported as a suicide brought on by the 45-year-old's dwindling career and/or frustration at being typecast as the superhero, subsequent revelations threw doubt on whether he was responsible for his own demise. What Allen Coulter oversees on his directorial debut is sure to heighten interest in the matter.

Writer Paul Bernbaum creates the character of private investigator Louis Simo (Brody), who is retained by Reeves' mother, Helen Bessolo (Smith), at the cost of $50 a day. Mrs Bessolo cannot accept that her son was capable of taking his own life and suspects his fiancée, aspiring actress and party lover Leonore Lemmon (Tunney), was responsible for her boy's death.

The feel of 1950s LA is expertly recreated as a time when cinema was coming under intense pressure from the increasing popularity of television.

The film moves freely from Simo's post-mortem investigation to the years, months, weeks and days leading up to Reeves' death. As Simo delves deeper into the murky world of behind-the scenes Hollywood, the wise-talking PI discovers that he has a lot in common with the deceased. Though the comparison between their two lives is tenuous at times, it ultimately holds up.

Affleck deserves most of the plaudits for his honest and compassionate performance as Reeves, and not solely because he gained 20 pounds for the role. He does a superb job of charting the journey from our initial encounter with Reeves as a charmer intent on a serious breakthrough in the movie business, through to the despair-ridden, alcohol-sodden washout we see before his death.

The fact that similarities exist between the careers of Affleck and Reeves certainly adds to the portrayal. We don't expect Affleck to also swallow hot coals, but he has complained in the past of being typecast as a bully due to his imposing physical stature (he stands at over 6' 2”). And despite success in his mid-twenties, most notably with 'Good Will Hunting', for which he won an Oscar for co-writing the screenplay with close friend and fellow actor Matt Damon, his former relationship with Jennifer Lopez has earned the 34-year-old more headlines than his acting achievements in recent years. 

Lane, meanwhile, excels as Mannix, as she slides masterly from an elegant vamp to a pitiful mess trying desperately to cling to youth.

Both Affleck and Lane could rightly have held out hope for Academy honours for their roles. However, if this movie serves only to put the former's career back on the straight and narrow, then it was worth it. Then, hopefully, we can all send the cinematic catastrophe that was 'Gigli' further into to the depths of our consciousnesses.

Séamus Leonard