The Majestic

The MajesticSynopsis: A new love. A new hometown. Peter Appleton is having the time of his life… by living someone else’s life. Directed by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile), The Majestic is both a valentine to the movies and the story of one man’s discovery of his own integrity.

Jim Carrey plays Peter, a Hollywood screenwriter who stumbles into tiny Lawson, California, with his memory blanked out by an auto accident. There, he’s mistaken by the citizenry to be a long-lost war hero… an identity Peter also comes to believe while restoring the town’s shuttered movie palace and romancing the girl (Laurie Holden) he supposedly left behind. It’s the perfect life and, perhaps, the perfect lie. But the truth is bound to surface.

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The Majestic 7.75

eyelights: the cast. the setting. its message.
eyesores: its length. its contrived drama.

“You remember movies but you don’t remember your life?”

I’m a fan of Frank Darabont. While the man is anything but prolific, he’s behind some of the most memorable films of the last two decades: ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, ‘The Green Mile’ and ‘The Mist‘. Okay, okay… let’s just agree that he’s the best Stephen King movie director out there and get on with it.

The point is that, given his track record, I had half-expected to be blown away with ‘The Majestic’, Darabont’s 2001 follow-up to ‘The Green Mile’. While the title and artwork didn’t capture my interest, the same could be said for ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ – and yet that’s a phenomenal picture.

Appearances can be deceiving, right?

But ‘The Majestic’ wasn’t even in the same league. Well, hell, what could be? I thought it was decent enough, but it was also quite forgettable. I ended up buying it only on principle, and because it was dirt cheap, but it gathered dust on my selves for years before I finally got around to watching it again.

And only because I was going through a bunch of Jim Carrey films.

Because, yes, ‘The Majestic’ stars Jim Carrey in a dramatic role. It also stars a truckload of character actors whose names won’t all be familiar, but whose faces will no doubt tickle the brain: Martin Landau, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, David Ogden Stiers, James Whitmore, Ron Rifkin, Hal Holbrook and Bob Balaban.

The picture takes us back to the ’50s, during the McCarthy era, to find up-and-coming screenwriter Peter Appleton (Carrey) the victim of studio blacklisting. Overnight, he loses his job, his girlfriend and becomes a Hollywood pariah. So, in a drunken fit, he decides to get out of town for a road trip.

But fate has a strange way of dealings its hands, and Peter’s car crashes through a bridge, dumps him in the river. When he wakes up, an amnesiac, he is thrust into a completely new life, in a small town that has been devastated by its WWII losses. He becomes the symbol and the catalyst of the town’s renewal.

The picture revolves around a disused cinema called ‘The Majestic’: its owner, Harry (Landau) believes that Peter is actually his son Luke, who remains missing in action. This belief spurs him to re-open the cinema, a family business, so that he and “Luke” may revive it and inject some life in the townsfolk.

But trouble brews even in the most idyllic places: Luke’s former fiancé returns to town to find her “lost beau”, not everyone believes that he is Luke, and the House of Un-American Activities Committee is trying to locate Peter – who is blissfully unaware of his previous troubles (and, thus can’t possibly avoid them).

Ill-prepared, how will Peter/Luke overcome these obstacles?

‘The Majestic’ is an excellent movie that aims to affect in the same breath as it tackles civil liberties. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite inspire the same sentiment that likely spawned the filmmakers to make it. I’m not quite sure why, but I suspect part of the problem is that it feels like it’s two movies sandwiched together.

On the one hand, there’s the bookends, which tackle the witch hunts and the impact that they have on everyday folks, and on the other there’s the touching centerpiece that is all about human warmth and hope. While there’s no reason why they shouldn’t co-exist, they’re awkwardly juxtaposed by a series of sloppy coincidences.

But they do at least serve up some of the film’s strongest material, such as a discussion about the Declaration of Independence being a contract (and that contracts can be renegotiated), or when Adele questions Peter’s apology to the Committee, instead of standing up to them. She influences his response to them.

It’s interesting to note that the picture was produced before the events of September 11, 2001, because it puts the spotlight on the freedoms that Americans struggled so hard to maintain since. In fact, any criticism of the government was frowned upon for years afterwards – which may explain the film’s box office failure.

And there’s really no reason for it. While it’s not a masterpiece, it’s an excellent picture. And it’s buoyed by terrific performances all around: Jim Carrey does a great Tim Robbins, Landau expresses layers of emotion absolutely brilliantly, Laurie Holden is rock solid, …etc. It should have received at least a few accolades.

Honestly, aside for the clunkiness of the bookends, the only real flaw in ‘The Majestic’ is a sequence at a lighthouse that feature really bad blue screening akin to the back screening of movies of yore. Otherwise, it was entertaining and thought-provoking, dramatic and light, and competently executed. It’s a pretty good film.

It just didn’t meet the expectations of a Frank Darabont picture. Or reach the heights that its title would imply. Perhaps that was its greatest flaw.

Date of viewing: August 8, 2015

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