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Laramie Movie Scope: The Majestic

A Capraesque tale of love and redemption

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 18, 2002 -- "The Majestic" is an unabashed tribute to the films of Frank Capra and a Valentine to movies in general. Capra's films (like "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," are about the innate decency of small-town Americans who triumph over cynical city-slickers. This is the same.

Jim Carrey ("Me, Myself and Irene") makes another bid for an Academy Award nomination as troubled screen writer Peter Appleton. He gets drunk and drives up the California coast, gets into a wreck, falls in a river and washes up on shore in the small coastal town of Lawson. There, Appleton, suffering from amnesia, is mistaken for Luke, the long-lost son of Harry Trimble. Harry is owner a small theater called "The Majestic." The story takes place in the early 1950s. Trimble is just one of scores of parents in the town whose sons were killed during World War II. So many were killed, in fact, the town was nationally recognized for its sacrifice. The war wounds are still too painful for the town to take its new bronze war statue out of the basement of City Hall and put it on display.

Appleton's appearance serves to wake the town up from it's grief-induced numbness. A dance is held in his honor. An old girlfriend, Adele Stanton (Laurie Holden) shows up and Harry decides to re-open The Majestic, which had been sitting idle. The last act of the film has to do with Appleton's testimony before a congressional committee on alleged Communist activities in Hollywood. This is where the film veers to the left politically and enters Never Never Land.

In the film, there are a lot of enlightened people who know the committee bullied and blackmailed people and ruined many lives for no real reason. In real life, people went along for the ride, just as they are going along for the anti-civil rights ride now in the so-called "war on terrorism." Hell, there are still people who think Joseph McCarthy was some kind of hero. The movie depicts America the way it should have been instead of the way it was, and is. When people are afraid, they will surrender their freedom to anyone who promises safety. This skewed view of reality is one of the charms of a Capra kind of film, the kind of movie that sees the best in us.

"The Majestic" also romanticizes the hell out of the movie business, making it look like running a movie theater is one of the most noble professions known to man. That was closer to the truth in the 1950s when all movies were "G" rated. Now, even some of the most praised films that Hollywood produces come with violence, pornography and even overtones of pedophilia and child porn ("American Beauty"). Hollywood also has been known to market R-rated films to an underage audience ("Starship Troopers"). I might sell tickets to that kind of swill, but I wouldn't be proud of myself for doing it. I would have no qualms about selling tickets to "The Majestic," however, since it is a PG-rated film, with no hint of violence or pornography.

Carrey is very good as a man who is pragmatic rather than brave, but who becomes a hero anyway. Maybe Carrey will finally get his best actor nomination this time after being snubbed twice before for better performances in "The Truman Show" and "Man on the Moon." This role should appeal to Oscar voters because it glamorizes the movie industry. Oscar-winner Martin Landau gives a great performance as the theater owner. Also notable are David Ogden Stiers of "Curse of the Jade Scorpion" as the town doctor, Bob Balaban of "Ghost World" as the lead committee counsel, and Hal Holbrook of "The Firm" as a committee member. Also appearing is craggy veteran actor James Whitmore of "The Shawshank Redemption." This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2002 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)