Over-applauded by many critics, TRUMAN is sturdy, standardized biographical moviemaking elevated by incontestably brilliant acting. Unfortunately, this cavalcade of facts and figures is conceived and executed impersonally like a docent delivering a speech in front of the waxworks at a
Late bloomer Harry S. Truman (Gary Sinise) marries Bess Wallace (Diana Scarwid) and serves proudly in WWI before opening a haberdashery with partner, Eddie Jacobsen (Zeljko Ivanek). Nothing in his farmland background indicated later entry in the political arena. When the Depression nearly
bankrupts him, Harry becomes amenable to the career change offered by corrupt ward-healer Thomas Pendergast (Pat Hingle).
Intransigently honest, Truman isn't the pliable figurehead Pendergast expected. Truman realizes he can't pass sweeping road improvements for his poor constituents without turning his back on small-time graft. His ascent from the Senate to the vice-presidency is remarkable considering his penchant
for deflating special interest groups. When FDR (Lee Richardson) dies in office, patriotic Truman plunges into the thankless job, even as Bess repeatedly absents herself from the Washington, DC social whirl.
In the greatest campaign upset of all time, whistle-stopping Truman defeats the favored Republican, Thomas Dewey, and wins a term of office on his own. However, Truman's presidency is fraught with international crises that he confronts without apology; the historical verdict is still out on some
Truman decisions such as dropping atomic bombs on Japan, choosing not to blackmail Senator Joe McCarthy into dropping the Red Witch Hunts, and firing the power-hungry but popular General Douglas McArthur (Daniel Von Bargen). Deciding not to run again, Truman backs off from controversy and thus
ushers in the Eisenhower era. Dismissed and even reviled when he retired from public office, Truman is now placed by historical revisionists in the forefront of American leaders, perhaps our last great US president.
History groupies will have a field day with this docudrama that dredges up every key and trivial event in Truman's colorful heyday. Perhaps this film will pack even more punch for those unfamiliar with the finer points of the rise and fall--and rise again--of Truman's reputation. What is sorely
lacking here is a stronger guiding hand; the audience doesn't require a heavily biased approach to Truman, but it needs--and does not receive--a sense that Truman's travails have been shaped on screen by a filmmaker's passion. What we get is a checklist of Truman's greatest hits.
In its principal players, this HBO production could not be improved upon. Without submerging himself in mere impersonation, Gary Sinise captures Truman's granite resilience and just-plain-folks demeanor sans condescension. Matching him is idiosyncratic actress Diana Scarwid, who ages gracefully
into her interpretation of matronly Bess by giving indications of Mrs. Truman's tartness in her scenes as the young, indomitable Bess. Magnificently supported by a galaxy of familiar and unfamiliar character actors and shrink-wrapped in documentary footage, TRUMAN offers the satisfaction of
textual thoroughness and seamless storytelling, but few flashes of inspiration or imagination. (Profanity, violence, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1995
- Rating: PG
- Review: Over-applauded by many critics, TRUMAN is sturdy, standardized biographical moviemaking elevated by incontestably brilliant acting. Unfortunately, this cavalcade of facts and figures is conceived and executed impersonally like a docent delivering a speech… (more)