Carl Hudson’s review published on Letterboxd:
There's something about an empty sheet of paper. All the possibilities are there, and they're endless. You can write down a name, a number, a question, and they could all form the beginning of countless tales, stories that could be remembered and hailed, or forgotten and laughed at, for years to come.
There's something about a shriveled-up, scribbled-upon sheet of paper. It suggests history, hardship, work. In a way it's sad; all the potential is gone. In another way, it's beautiful; all the potential has been fulfilled, though whether it's gone a good or a bad way depends on the story.
In the end, we're all stories; the stories we tell, the stories we're told, the stories that outlive us and the stories we think we're living. The potential for greatness is there, but so is the potential for failure. How the potential is used, and how we live with it, is up to ourself.
Sunset Boulevard depicts someone with a lot of potential, who's clearly put it to good use earlier in her carrier, but in recent times have felt the need to use some more of it. She's desperate to, in fact; now almost forgotten, she clings to the past, to any kind of recognition. She's all alone, having failed to use her romantic potential.
It's eerie how much the film parallells todays' world in a strange way; Warhol's "fifteen minutes of fame" comes to mind, as does Stephen King's Misery and the themes of it.
Part Hollywood-commentary which, according to interviews, books and reports that I have read, comes off as realistic and fresh as it would today, part psychological thriller, regarding Mrs. Desmond sliding mental health and part romantic drama, the film shifts its tones and the actors' performances with ease, gliding over bumps with well-written voice overs. (Some of them come off as a bit over-written, explaining events unfolding onscreen and clearing up emotions that would've made for fun theorizing, but they're never completely useless.) Billy Wilder has written and directed a fine film, looking crisp and fantastic sixty-three years later. Smart, funny, loveable and creepy; it pretty much has it all.
The actors deliver magnificent performances, chief among them being William Holden and Gloria Swanson, the latter managing to be magnificently creepy (seriously, just look at her eyes!) by just tilting her head and staring. The silent-movie chops must've come in handy when playing such a larger-than-life-figure; she acts as if her life is a movie, and damn everyone that tries to convince her otherwise. Holden gives a great performance as an out-of-work writer who just might not be that good, even if he's incredibly witty at times, but he's not given that much to do, playing the normal man who's caught up in all the chaos. Still, it's a nice subdued performance that works well when contrasted with Swanson's.
The film isn't afraid to go slow, but it relentlessly pushes ahead to solve it's own mystery - the story behind a writer lying dead in a swimming pool. It's brought to a close as the illusion is shattered; this isn't a movie, this is real life, in all its ugliness. The potential is cashed in, used up, everyone's got their fifteen minutes and no one goes home happy.
Well, except maybe the audience. We all need a little darkness in our lives, don't we? Better we see it unfold on the silver screen, or in newspapers, than live through it ourselves. And there's nothing quite like some real-life Hollywood darkness, is there?