Review: The Majestic (2001)

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The Majestic

The Majestic

Rating

Director

Frank Darabont

Screenplay

Michael Sloane

Length

2h 32m

Starring

Jim Carrey, Bob Balaban, Jeffrey DeMunn, Hal Holbrook, Laurie Holden, Martin Landau, Brent Briscoe, Ron Rifkin, Gerry Black, David Ogden Stiers, James Whitmore, Susan Willis, Catherine Dent

MPAA Rating

PG

Review

It was a dark time in the film industry. McCarthyism was raging strong and the House Un-American Activities Commission was searching for Communists everywhere. “The Majestic” is the story of one Hollywood writer who finally makes it big, but a car accident takes it all away.

Jim Carrey stars as Peter Appleton, a Hollywood screenwriter whose latest play has made it big and he decides to celebrate with his girlfriend. One evening, on his way home, his car swerves off a bridge and as he’s trying to escape, he hits his head and falls unconscious. Awaken the next morning by Stan Keller (James Whitmore) on a beach near a small California town. When he’s paraded into town to see Doc Stanton (David Ogden Stiers), one of the town’s residents, Harry Trimble (Martin Landau), sees Peter and mistakes him for his son Luke who never returned from the war.

Peter suffers from amnesia and doesn’t know this not to be the truth and the entire town comes out to try and convince him it is he. They believe the memory loss is a war injury and have a big celebration honoring him. Harry was the proprietor of the Majestic, an old movie house that was closed down after Luke went off to war because his father wasn’t in the mood to run it. Much of the film revolves around the revitalization of the Majestic and the lives touched by Luke after his return.

Carrey does a wonderful job conveying the joy and pathos of his character. With plenty of great dramatic performances behind him, he continues to excel in the genre while maintaining his comic edge. An impassioned speech at the end of the film cements his character’s gravity, honesty and bravery. Landau continues to play the same style of character he’s played previously, but he plays it so convincingly that it’s hard not to enjoy his characters.

Laurie Holden is a little flat as Luke’s pre-war girlfriend and fiancée Adele Stanton. She handles the role with conviction, but is painfully two-dimensional. It’s not entirely Holden’s fault, screenwriter Michael Sloane creates a robust, but conventional script. We’ve seen plenty of films that have tackled the conviction of individuals on trial, even some documenting the HUAC hearings.

The film masks itself as a coming of age and understanding story, but thrusts a social injustice story in to boot. While it does a lot of aggrandizing and promotion, it is neither glamorous nor appropriate. Even so, Frank Darabont who gave us the phenomenal “Shawshank Redemption” captures the era perfectly and prevents the audience from feeling too manipulated. His camera never waits for action, it finds it readily. Darabont is one of the better directors working today, but with the scripts he works on, he does everything in his power to keep them going, even if they are less than stellar.

“The Majestic” is beautiful to look at. Its technicians have successfully recreated the era of excess for filmmaking. The film within the film is as beautiful in black-and-white as the color film it’s housed in. Cinematographer David Tattersall does a terrific job capturing every differing element in the film. The images are crisp, clear and attractive.

“The Majestic” is an understanding film that examines the loss of memory and the effects of immense desire resulting in imagined response. Its core message lies under the more forceful message indicated at the climax of the film. The two work together to form a cohesive motion picture that says one thing, but upon further examination yields another.

Review Written

April 29, 2002

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