Frank Capra films had a way of making things better. When you finish watching a Capra film (It’s a Wonderful Life, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington leap immediately to mind), you end up feeling just a little bit better about the insane world around you. Films already have so many hurdles to jump these days, and when Director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redeption, The Green Mile) declared The Majestic as his “Capraesque film” he just added one more hurdle for his movie.
A hurdle that he clears easily.
The Majestic is sold in trailers as “The story of a man brought back to life, and town he brought back with him.” While not completely accurate, it is a wonderful pitch. In truth it is the story of Peter Appleton (Jim Carrey – Man in the Moon, The Truman Show), a Hollywood screenwriter who finds himself blacklisted just as his career is about to take off. His future is put on hold until after he faces the Congressional Committee of un-American acts. Trying to cope with this, Appleton ends up in a drunken accident that robs him of his memory.
He is found on the coast and taken to a small town where Harry Trimble (Martin Landau – Ed Wood, The X-Files), recognizes him as his son Luke Trimble, one of 62 young men the town lost in World War II. The members of the town embrace the return of Luke representing the return of each their own lost sons. Harry even decides to reopen the Majestic, the Trimble owned Movie Theatre that closed shortly after WWII. But while the town doctor (David Ogden Stiers – M*A*S*H*, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion), the town sheriff (Brent Briscoe – Sling Blade, Mulholland Dr.), and even Luke’s girlfriend Adele (Laurie Holden – The X Files) are eventually convinced of Luke’s return, he himself continues to doubt his identity.
The Majestic is an amazing movie that, as a Capraesque film does, makes you feel better about the world around you. Jim Carrey is Majestic’s Jimmy Stewart, a task he takes seriously, seeming to emulate the great actor from time to time (there are lines in the film I could see Stewart delivering exactly the same). Carrey has come a long way from the silly “talking through his ass” humor of Ace Ventura and is long overdue some recognition. If the Academy can get past Tom Hank’s beginnings as a cross dressing panty raider in “Bosom Buddies” why can’t they give Carrey the credit he deserves?
But, the film isn’t great just because of Carrey. This supporting cast is fantastic, from the town members to Hal Holbrook (Men of Honor, Designing Women) and Bob Balaban (Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, Ghost World) who are just mean as members of the Congressional Committee. The orangish hues of lighting and the camera capture exactly what I’d expect from this type of film and the score by Mark Isham (Life as a House, Men of Honor) captures the feel of the film perfectly. The Majestic is solid from top to bottom, without a weak member in cast or crew. All the performances seem driven from the heart and in times like these any movie that makes us feel better about the world may be just what we all need. Even though that’s what we expect from a Capraesque film, it’s also what we’ve come to expect from the director of The Shawshank Redeption, and The Green Mile.
If Darabont isn’t careful, someday someone will be making a “Darabontesque” film. I couldn’t think of a bigger compliment to be paid.