Majestic, The

The Majestic (PG)

I ALWAYS begin to inwardly twitch whenever a tried and tested screen comedian announces plans to make a ‘straight’ movie.

You know – Robin Williams as a Holocaust Jew in Jakob the Liar comes to mind, or Bill Murray in The Razor’s Edge.

So often these grand, niche-busting tales come to grief. And while Williams was superb in Good Will Hunting, Awakenings and Dead Poet’s Society, things like Jakob the Liar prove that gags and genocide just don’t mix. Period.

Why am I waffling on about this? Simply because Jim Carrey is the latest star to abandon his comic roots for something more straight-faced – the story of a man driven from Hollywood during the 1950s Communist witchhunts who then losing his memory and wakes up to be told he’s someone completely different.

Many considered it an attempt by Carrey to storm the Academy after missing out on Oscar nods for the likes of The Truman Show and Man on the Moon.

And while it’s not a bad film – indeed, it occasionally highlights as much of the paranoid nastiness of the HUAC hearings as was shown in the likes of Guilty by Suspicion – it would have performed much better without Carrey at its core.

The Majestic is the story of Hollywood screenwriter Peter Appleton (Carrey), an ambitious and rising scribbler whose promising career is cut short when he is accused of once being a Communist. Stripped of his job, girl and lifestyle in an instant, he seeks to escape his troubles by driving of into the stormy night.

In the rain his car goes off a bridge into the raging river below. Miraculously, Peter survives, washed up on a deserted beach where he is found by an old man. But Peter wakes up with no memory and, when the old man declares him to be the town of Lawson’s missing war hero, Luke Trimble, Peter can only smile weakly and declare that he really doesn’t think that’s the case.

Things get more complicated when the owner of the Majestic Picturehouse, Luke’s father (Martin Landau), joins in. Suddenly Peter is doubting his own self but, with no memory of things past, the only thing he can cling to is Lawson.

Directed by Frank Darabont from a script by Michael Sloane, The Majestic is, at times, a magnificently potent snapshot of an era in US history that has become as despised as the slave years.

It succeeds totally in its depiction of a time of paranoia and neurosis where merely the sniff of communist links was enough to be labelled a ‘Red’ and snuff out life and career.

The film is bookended by two sequences that sum up the liberal politics of Sloane’s story. Neatly done, too. Yet the substantial middle section rests almost entirely on Carrey’s acceptance (or non, as the case may be) by the townsfolk of Lawson who desperately want something tangibly heroic to cling to in the austere years after the war.

It is here where the film begins to unravel, primarily because Carrey lacks the requisite dramatic weight to carry the burden of the role. Also, far too much time is spent renovating the derelict Majestic – an allegory for the ills that manifest themselves in the United States and which may only be cured by liberalism, tolerance and love of one’s fellow man.

In the hands of another filmmaker it would all turn to schmaltz (certainly if played by Robin Williams, too) but Darabont manages to keep the mixture from curdling. Just.

As for Carrey, he tries so hard to play the part without gurning or otherwise playing the fool. Yet… he doesn’t make it. This is a man conditioned to playing to the lowest common denominator in his humour. Now he appears desperate to prove he can be serious too.

He should quit while he’s ahead. When it comes down to it The Majestic would have been better with someone like Jeff Bridges as the all-American amnesiac hero. Carrey just carries too much baggage.

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