Remember old Hollywood? Forget what was going on behind the scenes; remember what the movies used to be. Remember when the stars were gods and goddesses, fifty cents could go a long way, and movie theaters were palaces? Remember when the movies were more than distractions, but magical? This kind of wonder isn't re-incarnated in Frank Darabont's latest film "The Majestic", but it's nice to come across a movie that remembers what film really used to be about.
Jim Carrey is Peter Appleton, a screenwriter living at the beginning of the end of Hollywood's magic era. He has a comfortable life, and he believes he is on the verge of moving from writing B pictures to the A list. Unfortunately for him, someone has named him as a communist and he is placed on the infamous Hollywood blacklist. His girlfriend dumps him and his production is shut down, leaving him with little. He decides to go for a drive and clear his mind, which is hard to do when one is drunk. Fate rears it's ugly head when he loses control of his car and falls off of a high bridge into a river. He washes up on the beach near a small town without any memory. He is taken up to the town, who is very hospitable to him. To them he seems "awfully familiar". Harry Trimble (Martin Landau) knows why: he believes that Peter is his long lost son Luke. The town tries to give him back his memory, constantly reminding of "his" life before he left for the war. Now, as Hollywood agents search for their supposed communist spy, he is trying to remember who he is.
As Peter starts to accept the fact that he is most likely Luke Trimble, he leads a quest to get the Majestic (the old movie theater he lives above) back into it's former glory. It is in these re-vitalization scenes, and all the scenes inside the Majestic, that homage is paid to the Hollywood of everyone's dreams. When the Majestic is lit up, it becomes a Taj Mahal of wonder and amazement. In the outside world, Hollywood may be full of dishonest vultures looking for their next victim. But inside the Majestic, it is only movies; anything that meant anything was up on the screen until the final fadeout.
"The Majestic" is a simple, straightforward soap opera that is saved by the good graces of Jim Carrey. Carrey is one of the most under appreciated actors in the business today, mostly because of some of the movies he's been in. It's hard for a lot of people to accept Carrey as more than a goofball that relies on poor slapstick to get him through, but Carrey has broken out of that mold. I was pleasantly surprised with his performance in "The Truman Show", but he really impressed me with "Man on the Moon". Now he takes another role into his own hands. Even when the film is at it's most fluffy, Carrey keeps it grounded in reality. Take Peter's trial in front of the House of Un-American Activities (those guys that started the blacklist). The script (sloppily constructed by Michael Sloane) wants it to be an melodramatic showstopper, but Carrey knows better than that. He makes the scene believable and remembers he's talking to people and that he's not the only actor in the scene. A lot of actors have trouble learning how to do that these days. Martin Landau also gives a wonderful performance worthy of recognition as the father who's desperate to bring his son back to life.
The film is far from without fault. Director Frank Darabont has developed a complex that makes him feel the need to make movies no less than two and a half hours long, and to be honest, too much of "The Majestic" is dead air. When Carrey cries out "Don't tell me that's what Luke would have done, as if I haven't heard that enough today!" I could sympathize with him completely. We're trying to believe in a character who doesn't exist, and we're given an incredible amount of chatter about the kind of person Luke Trimble was. Each discovery about Luke is brought about like a new revelation (and presented with some more speechifying), but there were too many times when I was just thinking "who cares?" Long movies don't always equal excellence.
"The Majestic" is a recommendable film that can remember how fun pictures used to be, but is too wrapped up in it's own little details to pass any of that energy onto the audience. Carrey redeems the film from the scrap pile and makes it into a presentable piece. The acting is a diamond in the rough that will not get the attention it deserves due to the rest of the mush surrounding it. The protagonist of "The Majestic" is constantly fighting for originality in his work, but the film itself can be just as tiresome as the ideas pitched at him. Expect a nice but forgettable journey that's heart lies in the performances of Carrey and Landau.