The Truman Show (1998)

The Truman ShowStarring Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Ed Harris, Noah Emmerich, Natascha McElhone, Holland Taylor, Brian Delate, and Paul Giamatti.
Written by Andrew Niccol.
Directed by Peter Weir.

Grade: A-

Review by Carlo Cavagna.

To appreciate The Truman Show, you've got to suspend your disbelief higher than Mount Everest, but fortunately director Peter Weir doesn't make it difficult. With his gentle touch, Weir brings you the story of Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), who is unaware that he is the star of a 24-hour-a-day television program. Every moment of his life is captured by one of a thousand cameras and fed live, via satellite, to a global audience of millions. All the people in Truman's life, including his wife (Laura Linney), his mother (Holland Taylor), and his best friend (Noah Emmerich), are actors, and his entire world is a gigantic domed soundstage. Finally, at age 30, Truman, who has never left his idyllic community of Seahaven, begins to suspect that something is fishy. But the show's producer, Cristof (Ed Harris), will do anything to prevent Truman from leaving Seahaven and discovering the truth.

Obviously The Truman Show is an indictment of the manipulative media, but Peter Weir is never heavy-handed with his message. Except for one brief exchange between Cristof and Truman's long lost love Lauren (Natascha McElhone), the criticism is never explicit; Weir allows the story to speak for itself, which it does eloquently. Admittedly, there are defects in the story that one could criticize. For example, if it is so important that Truman never leave Seahaven, why didn't Cristof just create a world for Truman where no outside world exists even in theory? It would have been possible--as Cristof rightly says, we don't question the oddities of our world if it's the only world we've ever known. Also, if Truman's wife is an actress, doesn't that mean that she's essentially being paid to have sex with him? Shouldn't this bother some of the show's fans? Ed Harris as Cristof

The weaknesses in the premise don't detract much from the story, however. Peter Weir never makes the mistake of suggesting that his setting is a plausible future or alternate reality. Weir presents The Truman Show as a fairy tale, not as an Orwellian nightmare. Instead of saying "This could happen," Weir is asking, "What if...?" Because the whole story is hypothetical, it's much easier to accept the deficiencies in the premise.

The acting is solid all-around. Jim Carrey does a commendable job as Truman, only occasionally breaking into his trademark Carrey-isms. Once again, as with Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, Weir has taken a previously wild and undisciplined comic and coaxed from him a more restrained, career-changing performance. Laura Linney distinguishes herself as Truman's wife, who discovers that she's taken the acting-job-from-hell when she must fight to keep the increasingly suspicious Truman under control. The always underrated Ed Harris is also impressive as the godlike Cristof. His performance has earned him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor, and in a year where few supporting actor performances really stand out, an Oscar might be an appropriate recognition of Harris' talent and consistently solid work.

Review © March 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Image © 1998 by Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.

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