The Majestic (2001) / Drama-Romance

MPAA Rated: PG for language
Running Time: 152 min.

Cast: Jim Carrey, Martin Landau, Laurie Holden, Allen Garfield, Amanda Detmer, Bob Balaban, Hal Holbrook, Ron Rifkin, David Ogden Stiers, Bruce Campbell
Director: Frank Darabont
Screenplay: Michael Sloane
Review published January 8, 2002

When the first feature film you've directed is an arguable masterpiece, expectations in your career are going to be high.  When your second film also gets a Best Picture nod, then you're going to be expected to have one every time out.  These are the lofty expectations that may forever loom over Frank Darabont's entire career.  Darabont is the director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, both considered among the finest films of the last decade, and now comes his third eagerly awaited feature, The Majestic

The Majestic is different from Darabont's previous two outings in two notable and significant ways. It isn't based on a work by Stephen King, and Darabont did not write the screenplay.  The screenplay is actually written by a relative novice in the industry, Michael Sloane, whose only other previous screenplay to see the silver screen was a total throwaway Hollywood Boulevard II.  Thus Darabont is left on uncertain ground to make more movie magic, and the fact that he almost succeeds is testament to his impressive talents within cinema -- a true craftsman of the trade.

The Majestic stars Jim Carrey (The Truman Show, Liar Liar) as Peter Appleton, an early 50s B-movie screenwriter with A-movie aspirations.  Due to his presence in a college club with anti-war connotations, Appleton is named as a possible Communist, and must appear before McCarthy's witch-hunt in order to name names and move on, or suffer a blacklisting.  He later suffers a car accident over a bridge only to find himself waking up in a small town with no recollection of who he is.  The townsfolk seem to know -- he is Luke Trimble, long thought dead in the World War that all but killed the spirit of this small town and took the lives of almost all the young men.  With their Luke back, the town comes to life again, including Luke's father's dream to reopen The Majestic, a grandiose movie theater that had gone under when the town lost it's ability to dream.  But what will happen to the town once they find out that Peter may not be Luke, but also he is a suspected anti-American pinko?

Most people who are familiar wit the works of Frank Capra will no doubt consider The Majestic as a Capra-esque picture.  This means an overly sentimental film that, if you are of a sort, make you feel good, even though it's clearly manipulative to the core.  Without a doubt, The Majestic had me going much of the time, and while I can't claim the film is one of the year's best, it may be one of the most loved films by many who view it. 

Jim Carrey gives what may be his best performance to date on film; a truly remarkable job considering the seriousness and emotion he must display given that he has never really played a role with this kind of range before.  The entire cast is quite likeable, as is the overall feel of the film, and when the going is good, you feel good along with them. 

If there is any downside to the film, it's the backdrop of the McCarthy era and the blacklisting of Hollywood's finest.  While an important time in America, it will unfortunately be lost among most moviegoers memories, and the phoniness of the grandstanding allowed by Carrey in front of the panel makes it hard to swallow.  Yet, the film somehow has enough mystique and good-feeling to overlook some very cornball mechanisms and still win you over.

The Majestic is a rare breed in today's filmmaking, a throwback to the golden days of Hollywood where the "good guys always win" and the protagonist always gets the girl.  It's not realistic, it's a whole lot of corny and many filmgoers may find it hard to stomach.  Yet there will always be those people, much like myself, who actually want to feel good watching a movie, and to laugh and smile and root for the good guy no matter how phony-baloney the reasons are.  It's silly, it's shameless, but damn it, so hard not to love.

Qwipster's rating:

2002 Vince Leo