(The following review is from the original 1998 theatrical release) One of the most talented but lesser known directors working today is Australian auteur, Peter Weir. While he's well respected inside Hollywood and has received several Oscar nominations for his work, few moviegoers could identify him like they can Spielberg or Scorsese. Yet, if you mention his films that include "Gallipoli," "The Year of Living Dangerously," "Witness," and "Dead Poets Society," people will respond with an affirmative nod and cumulatively recognize that Weir is an extremely talented filmmaker.
His latest release, "The Truman Show," further cements that status. If you can imagine a Jimmy Stewart-like character stepping into a funny, but still bizarre "Twilight Zone" episode, you'll begin to get a mental picture of this most unique film. Clearly one of the most clever movies to be released in some time, this is also a break through for comic actor Jim Carrey.
Now, we're not talking a Robin Williams type of performance, and serious award nominations are a long shot at best. Nonetheless, this is easily Carrey's strongest performance of his career. His diehard fans who've grown to love him for his goofy roles in films such as "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and "Dumb and Dumber," though, need not worry. Some of those goofy elements are still present. However, the film's humor is much more sophisticated than in any of his previous films and yet still manages to be quite funny.
Working from Andrew Niccol's (the writer/director of "Gattaca") script, Weir not only delivers some big, crowd pleasing laughs, but also equal amounts of more subtle humor as well. Since all of Truman's life is televised live (itself an extremely sharpened jab at today's "reality" shows and news media that tend to cover and over emphasize even the most mundane subjects), the show needs to make money, so advertisements are located throughout Truman's world. Every day two men corner him next to a wall displaying a large ad, while his wife occasionally demonstrates -- like a seasoned "sponsor" -- the latest product she's purchased. In today's moviemaking market where corporations commonly pay moviemakers to place their products in a given film, this is perhaps the most brilliant piece of satire in the picture.
Then again, the painstaking attempts to which the fictitious producers and cast go while trying to keep Truman on the fictitious island are outrageously funny as well. As a child, Truman states that he wants to be a great explorer like Magellan. His teacher, however, is quick to point out that he's too late as everything's already been discovered. Likewise, Truman's later visit with a travel agent is hilarious -- make sure you watch for the posters and signs on the office walls warning of what may happen should you leave Seahaven's safety.
Those are just a few of the many delightful moments, and even more continue with the reactions of the performers -- all playing Truman's family, friends and neighbors -- to his sudden and now unpredictable nature. To mention more would spoil the fun that's to be had, but rest assured, there's plenty here to enjoy.
Of course, the film's success rests on the shoulders of that rubbery faced comic who is perhaps best known for imitating the famous Tarzan yell from another certain part of his anatomy. While there is a brief, but funny shot of his protruding behind, there's little else of Carrey's normal sophomoric humor. Instead, he's toned down that routine but still allowed his winning charm and charisma to ooze through, and the result is quite pleasing. People who normally can't stand his acting and the characters he often plays will probably like this more understated performance, and his fans won't be disappointed by the "new" Jim.
The other performances are quite good, but the characters are nowhere as developed as Carrey's (which is to be expected since most are playing actors playing other characters). The exception is the always wonderful Ed Harris ("Apollo 13," "The Rock") who replaced Dennis Hopper after the first day of shooting and is quite effective as the show's creator. It would have been nice, however, had we learned just a little more about his character to keep him from being perhaps a little too enigmatic. An in-movie TV interview helps and we see that Christof obviously has a father complex toward Truman that occasionally surfaces. Personally, I would have liked just a bit more inner conflict concerning that fathering instinct versus show business, but Harris still manages to convincingly underplay those moments.
Laura Linney ("Absolute Power," "Primal Fear") is good as the actress playing the Donna Reed caricature of a wife who desperately tries to ad lib during Truman's volatile moments, and Noah Emmerich ("Beautiful Girls," "Copland") is likewise enjoyable as Truman's buddy who always shows up with a six-pack of beer. The best moments -- that are unfortunately too brief -- are when Carrey interacts with Natascha McElhone ("The Devil's Own," "Mrs. Dalloway") as we can't help but notice that their characters are obviously meant to be together. When "Lauren" tries to warn him about the realities of his life, however, she's whisked away to the story's sidelines, much to the audience's dismay.
Even so, the film is quite good and should make most critics and moviegoers' top ten lists for 1998. With a great performance by Carrey, a superbly witty screenplay from Niccol, and another fabulous directorial effort from Weir -- who manages to perfectly balance big laughs with more subtle humor and a few touching moments -- "The Truman Show" is a cinematic treat as tasty as anything you'll find at the concession stand.