Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Majestic (2001, Darabont)

Leisurely paced and thinly-plotted does not necessarily make for a deadly combo, granted that the movie in question is relaxed and entertaining at the same time (see Resnais’ Smoking/No Smoking [1993] for that). Unfortunately, Frank Darabont’s The Majestic (2001) is drunk on its own dream of moral gravitas: a mere concept that is never realized.

Sentimentalizing the innocence of a wrongly accused young man was only a part of The Shawshank Redemption (1994) appeal – here, as in Darabont’s The Green Mile (1999), it takes over the whole picture. The thing that made Shawshank… so satisfying for this viewer, was that its central character denied easy access – there was something cryptic about Tim Robins’ performance, and as an audience we kept guessing at his Andy Dufresne’s true nature (which made us automatic allies with Morgan Freeman’s character, who was doing the same thing all along). In The Majestic, Peter Appleton (Jim Carrey) is fully laid out as a character in the first five minutes of the movie – we know he’s an ambitious writer of pulp scripts and that he got blacklisted in spite of never having been a Communist. There’s precious little that would go beyond that in the following 140 minutes or so, even though a large section of the film is devoted to Peter’s assuming someone else’s identity in the wake of his memory loss. Peter is a blank noble space, with no mystery to him, and no real appeal.

Bob Balaban’s unfunny turn as a buggy-eyed, fuddy duddy HUAC clerk steers the movie – if only for a brief moment – into the territory of a historical parody, much in the vein of Spielberg’s 1941 (1979). In fact, I’d much rather see a deranged, over-the-top take on the Red Scare in Hollywood, than Darabont’s sanctimonious and sanitized fairy tale. This is yet another movie that – very much like Good Night, and Good Luck. (2006) – portrays 1950s anti-Communism as completely unfounded, which is historically incorrect. What anti-Communism was in those years, was exaggerated: a knee-jerk, neurotic reaction to a real and manageable threat that was truly at work in the USA. I would very much like to watch a movie that would encompass the era in all its tragic complexity – we could really use more works like Robert De Niro’s brilliant The Good Shepherd (2007).


  1. Interesting. I haven't seen THE MAJESTIC since I saw it in theaters. But very good call on THE GOOD SHEPHERD. Such a very good movie.

  2. I always felt De Niro didn't get enough credit for that movie.