The Majestic

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Review byMatthew Turner22/05/2002

Three out of five stars
Running time: 153 mins

Watchable drama with likeable performances but it’s let down by a schmaltzy, overly patriotic finale and its excessive, bladder-threatening running time.

Along with Alfred Hitchcock and ‘Hitchcockian’, Frank Capra is one of the few classic Hollywood directors to have given his name to an adjective.

In his case, on the strength of films such as Mr Smith Goes To Washington and It’s A Wonderful Life, ‘Capra-esque’ has come to mean a film that emphasises the liberal family values of small-town America - in other words, feel-good films with a conscience. Unfortunately, his name also bred a derogative term: ‘Capra-corn’ and Frank Darabont’s third film (after The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile) is an example of Capra-corn at its finest.

The Plot

Jim Carrey stars as Peter Appleton, a screenwriter in 1950s Hollywood on the verge of a big break. Unfortunately, thanks to a dalliance with a politically active girlfriend while in college, he finds himself on the blacklist during the McCarthy witch-hunts. Cut loose by the studio and dumped by his girlfriend, he ends up getting drunk, crashing his car into a river and losing his memory.

When he comes to, he finds himself in Lawson, a picture-perfect example of Small-town USA, where he is mistaken for a local boy who’d never returned from the war and quickly gets involved in the symbolic restoration of the town’s local cinema, The Majestic. However, it’s only a matter of time before the Feds track Peter down…

The Acting

The performances are all good, particularly Carrey, who once again proves that he can really cut it as a straight actor (at least until the embarrassing final courtroom scenes). There’s also good support from the likes of David Ogden Stiers, Martin Landau and veteran actor James Whitmore. Similarly, X-Files fans will be pleased to note that Laurie Holden (who played Marita Covarrubias and bears an uncanny resemblance to Carrey’s ex-wife, the bizarrely similarly-named Lauren Holly) is the female lead and, as such, occasions the film's best line: "Do you remember me?" "No ma'am - but I'll sure as hell try..."

The film is jam-packed with film references (the claw from The Best Years of Our Lives, the plot from The Return of Martin Guerre etc) and, if you’re a keen film-buff there is fun to be had from spotting them all. However, Darabont never gets close to capturing the spirit of the films he so obviously loves and the film almost always suffers by comparison.

Patriotic Sentimentality

What really lets the film down is a combination of a frankly ridiculously unrealistic ending and an overload of patriotic sentimentality, coupled with the fact that Mr Darabont could really use an editor – he has yet to make a movie that comes in at under two hours and twenty minutes and this is no exception. As a result, it could easily be a good forty minutes shorter.

That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have its moments, such as the clips from Appleton’s ‘swashbuckler’ and the opening scene that recalls Altman’s The Player, with off screen voices (including Matt Damon and Rob Reiner) ‘improving’ Appleton’s script while he just sits there, taking it all in.

Similarly the scene where Carrey ‘discovers’ he can play the piano is good, though it would have been funnier if it hadn’t been done a million times better by Bill Bailey on Black Books recently.

To sum up, The Majestic is well acted and just about watchable enough if you’re in the mood for a schmaltzy drama, but with a little effort and a judicious snip to the running time it could have been a lot better.

Film Trailer

The Majestic
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Content updated: 14/12/2018 06:47

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