'The Truman Show': THR's 1998 Review

The Truman Show - H - 1998
A cleverly conceived (by Andrew Niccol), masterfully executed cautionary tale.

On June 5, 1998, Paramount unveiled the Jim Carrey high-concept dramedy The Truman Show in theaters. The film went on to nab three nominations at the 71st Academy Awards, including for Ed Harris in the supporting actor category, Peter Weir for director and Andrew Niccol for screenplay. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below: 

A satire of Orwellian proportions, Peter Weir's The Truman Show is a cleverly conceived (by Andrew Niccol), masterfully executed cautionary tale that would have tickled late media guru Marshall McLuhan.

In many ways a logical extension of MTV's Real World — not to mention the groundbreaking '70s saga of the Loud Family — the show in question concerns one Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey in the breakout role he's been waiting for), the unwitting star of a 30-years-and-counting, 24-hour-a-day broadcast of his entire existence.

Like screen naifs George Bailey, Chance Gardner and Forrest Gump before him, Truman's a wide-eyed babe in the woods whose sheltered existence is about to receive a rude awakening.

The highly satisfying picture should emerge as one of Paramount's best-reviewed, higher-grossing releases of the year. But Weir's avoidance, however admirable, of playing up to audience emotions ultimately robs Truman of attaining Gump-sized results.

The brainchild of a ratings-chasing, self-styled Svengali who goes by the name Christof (Ed Harris), the show within The Truman Show has kept viewers the world over glued to their sets for more than 10,000 weeks, ever since an unwanted child was plucked from his mother's womb and placed in front of a hidden TV camera.

Three decades and some 5,000 miniature cameras later, the first child legally adopted by a corporation has unknowingly grown up in an intricately controlled, totally fabricated environment.

Every aspect of Truman's beloved, picture-postcard-perfect Seahaven Island has been painstakingly choreographed — from the breathtaking sunsets to his relationships with his impossibly perky wife (Laura Linney), doting mother (Holland Taylor) and six-pack-toting best buddy (Noah Emmerich), actors all, who manage to work product pitches into their performances.

But a series of technical glitches, including a miscued radio signal in his car and an unscheduled appearance from his long-thought-to-be-drowned dad, has Truman gradually discovering the truth surrounding his life.

Weir is a talented director whose best work often involves the alienated, be they journalists (The Year of Living Dangerously), an Amish mother and child (Witness), schoolteachers (Dead Poets Society) or plane crash survivors (Fearless). The Truman Show, with a knowing script by Niccol that evokes the caustic wit of Paddy Chayefsky, neatly fits into that oeuvre.

The film is also buoyed by a carefully measured, beautifully underplayed Carrey performance that finally reveals his long-suspected potential as a multidimensional comic actor with a Robin Williams/Tom Hanks future.

Also effective is Harris as Truman's calmly controlling creator, a man who can deliver the command "Cue the sun!" with casual aplomb. As faux people in Truman's real life, Linney, Taylor and Emmerich pull off a tricky, comedic balancing act, while Natascha McElhone is effective as a sympathetic "intruder" who unsuccessfully attempts to tell Truman the truth.

Yet there's something missing here: While Weir delivers both sharp wit and gentle poignancy, Truman's end catharsis needs greater emotional heft, given the enormity of the ultimate realization that his life has been one big Nielsen rating.

Production values are uniformly pristine, with kudos to Dennis Gassner for his perpetually sunny production design and Peter Biziou for his brisk, deliberately intrusive camerawork. — Michael Rechtshaffen, originally published April 27, 1998.