Film Review: ‘Truman’ Is an Underwhelming Contemplation of Mortality

Winner of five Goya Awards in 2016 (including the trifecta of Best Film, Director and Screenplay) Cesc Gay‘s “Truman” confronts one of the most difficult facts of life. Namely, death becomes the central theme throughout this gentle drama, which stars Ricardo Darin in a role that will feel familiar to any audience. “Truman” bears witness to this character’s dying days, reminding us of the depressing and often uneventful experience of losing a loved one.

When we first meet Darin’s character – named Julián – his downward trajectory is easy to see. Visibly tired and sickly, he welcomes longtime friend Tomás (Javier Cámara) into his home for the start of four emotional days together. Unsurprisingly, we learn that Julián is suffering with terminal cancer and is preparing for the end. Resigned to his hopeless situation, he has decided to refuse any further treatment, much to the disappointment of his friends and family. In his own dog days, his dog Truman becomes a priority, as he seeks a new home for his beloved pet and ties up other loose ends.

Those loose ends include funeral arrangements and final goodbyes to friends and family. And these scenes are about as exciting as they sound. Indeed, the film is painstakingly honest about the largely banal process of dying. For Gay and his co-writer Tomàs Aragay, death provides no profound epiphanies for Julián to learn from, nor does it encourage any last “bucket list” hurrah.

Whatever sentimentality there is to be found in the script comes mostly from Darin’s tenderly wrought performance. The innate vivacity that he expresses through his eyes betrays his subdued demeanor, generating immense pathos as his grim outlook on life worsens. Though the film is named after his dog, the narrative hinges primarily on Julian’s perspective and decisions. Meanwhile, the other characters are thinly written afterthoughts, even Tomás, whose screen time suggests a co-lead role.

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Ultimately, “Truman” feels like the epilogue to another more fascinating film. The dialogue often refers to conflicts and traumas that have long passed, leaving the audience with a main character who is, for the most part, just biding time. As such, the last wishes revealed in the climax come as no surprise. And though it commendably avoids schmaltz, the realist approach goes a bit too far in the other direction. Darin’s engaging performance makes it easy to sympathize with the protagonist’s plight, but “Truman” provides little else to keep audiences enthused.

“Truman” opens in select theaters April 7.

GRADE: (★★½)

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About Shane Slater

Shane is a passionate cinephile and Tomatometer-approved film critic residing in Kingston, Jamaica. When he's not watching or writing about film, he spends much of his time wishing he lived in a big city. Shane is an avid world traveler and loves attending film festivals. He is a member of the African-American Film Critics Association.