Proving that a blockbuster doesn't have to be big, brash, vacuous and wedged with a ton of eye-stinging special effects, The Truman Show is practically an anti-Event Movie. Instead of taking a low-brow/high-thrill approach to its ingenious idea, Peter Weir has given us a thoughtful, intelligent, wholly character-driven masterpiece. Nor is it just a great movie in its own right; it's a great mainstream movie. Watch it by yourself, take your girlfriend/ boyfriend or go with a bunch of friends, you'll enjoy it just the same. Like Titanic, The Truman Show is a rare multiplex crowd-pleaser that doesn't begin to insult your intelligence and, because of this, it more than makes up for big disappointments Godzilla, Lost In Space and Armageddon.
Of course, the less you know about the plot the better, as this is an extraordinary experience from start to finish. It's the sort of movie that you wish Hollywood made more often: the perfect combination of a witty script (mercifully unhacked by gag-adding writers-for-hire), a refreshingly short running-time and a small principal cast so perfectly suited to their on-screen roles they might have been born to play them. Harris brings a controlled God- complex to the role of The Truman Show's creator/producer/director Christof and Linney excels as Truman's slogan-spouting wife. McElhone, meanwhile, has the difficult task of playing the plot-advancing, rebellious love interest who tries to convince Truman that it's all a lie. Yet, although their performances are faultless, these actors are constantly being eclipsed by the two real stars.
The first is the bizarre premise. Truman Burbank (Carrey) has grown-up in the artificial town of Seahaven, a prefab suburban nirvana jammed in a happy timewarp sometime between the '50s and the '90s. Five thousand mini-cameras (hidden in plants, car radios, shirt buttons and the like) survey this mammoth television sound stage, following every aspect of Truman's existence and broadcasting it 24 hours every day to an eager world. Actors play his friends and relatives, while Christof (who gets to utter such lines as "Cue the sun"), manipulates this goldfish bowl-style micro-reality from an office concealed behind the Moon. It's only after a series of on-set accidents (a spotlight falls out of the sky and Truman tunes into a radio frequency instructing the show's actors), that our hero starts to question the world around him.
Naturally, the impact of this concept would be lessened without a believable central character, and Carrey turns in the performance of his life. Forget his rubber-faced zaniness in comedies like Ace Ventura and Liar Liar. It doesn't matter if you've never liked him before. Yes, there are still traces of the OTT comedian in the character of Truman, but Carrey approaches his role with gentle, honest kindness, creating a real human being with real emotions, who's about to discover his life has been a carefully-orchestrated lie. It's a powerful, masterfully understated and moving performance, veering perfectly between moments of humour and heart-tugging seriousness. Carrey deserves full credit for his part in making The Truman Show the huge success it so evidently is.
Clever, funny, enjoyable, this is not just the best mainstream comedy of the year, it might rank as the best of the last five years. With a multitude of subtexts, social comment and satirical sideswipes, it's a beautifully-crafted, emotional piece with an original heart and an irresistible storyline. It's so good you don't want it to end. Films this great don't come along often. Queue to see what is surely one of the defining movies of the '90s.