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The Manchurian Candidate /

Rated: R

Starring: Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Meryl Streep, Kimberly Elise, Jon Voight

Directed by: Jonathan Demme

Produced by: Jonathan Demme, Ilona Herzberg, Scott Rudin, Tina Sinatra
Written by:
Daniel Pyne, Dean Georgaris
Distributor: Paramount Pictures


Denzel Washington and Liev Schreiber in Paramount Pictures' The Manchurian Candidate
Meryl Streep in Paramount Pictures' The Manchurian Candidate
Jeffrey Wright in Paramount's The Manchurian Candidate

     Jonathan Demme makes a living bringing creativity to Hollywood. And he barely squeaks by doing it. Iím not about to deny that he is a great director; he is one of my favorites, in fact. But thatís not to say that he doesnít engage in risky business of all kinds, as a filmmaker. For the most part, mainstream audiences cannot appreciate anything deeper than surface value, and Demmeís films offer more than that. His career is clearly in a period of decline; his recent effort, The Truth about Charlie, bombed explosively, despite its high quality. But, the fact that he still can bring art into multiplexes is unavoidable. Back in 1991, he shocked everyone with The Silence of the Lambs, and even though his latest projects arenít in the same league as it, theyíre still good. His new update of The Manchurian Candidate is no exception; itís a smart and surprising thriller. Much has changed since Frank Sinatra took the screen, in the 1962 version of the film, and I think itís for the better. As well-done and nail-biting as the story may have been may have been, this picture is far more engaging, if less eye-opening.

     In the original Manchurian Candidate, several troops in the Vietnam War were brainwashed by a group of Asians, called the Manchurians. Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber), who they were hypnotized to take for a war hero, was in their convoy. The man who basically acted as Raymondís father, providing for him, in essence, was running for president at the time. It was later discovered that his mother was in on the Manchuriansí plan, and was using it, in order to ensure Raymondís ďfatherísĒ position in the White House. However, in the end, her idea of security went desperately, and the director of The Manchurian Candidate, John Frankenheimer, was hailed for fashioning one of the most unpredictable conclusions in the history of film.

     In this update of the story, the chain of events remains just as jaw-dropping, but times have changed. Instead of a racial group, the term Manchurian refers to a corporation called Manchurian Global, who Raymondís mother has stricken many deals with, on the campaign. Denzel Washington plays Ben Marco, another one of the brainwashed soldiers. He discovers what has happened, acting on he and his fellow ex-fightersí suspicious dreams about the crime, and tries as hard as he can to stop the ensuing events. This time, though, scientists control Ben and Raymond through computer chips. The game of solitaire, which heavily impacted The Firstís plot, is nowhere to be found.

     Here, Raymond is the Vice Presidential Candidate of a team that will win the election by a landslide. But, his mother (now played by Meryl Streep), still has more than a few tricks up her sleeve, with the help of Manchurian Global. Demme clearly hates big corporations, and makes several allusions to the current government in this flick, but it is so well done, itís hard to critique his efforts on the basis of his flawed politics. He strays from the liberal grounds that Michael Moore walks, and usually just aspires to make an effective thriller. And, that, he certainly does.

     One of the more questionable aspects of Demmeís re-working of The Manchurian Candidate is writers Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgarisí changing of many of the charactersí personality traits. Raymond Shaw has, basically, the same thinking-process here, but the rest of the parts have been drastically changed. Meryl Streep, for example, is very different in the role of his mother, Eleanor, than Angela Lansbury. The earlier actress came off as simply manipulating, whereas Streep superiorly captures cold hearted evil. Should I care that sheís a conservative, like me? No. Just that she goes down like a bitch. One could say that Demme is simply stereotyping big-business supporters, but I think that heís simply showing us one-note cold-heartedness, and it works damn well, at that.

     Washingtonís character, Ben, has also been altered quite a bit from Sinatraís version, and isnít quite as effective. However, the experienced actor does what he needs to do to allow the plot to move on in its new form. After all, if he had simply created a carbon copy of Sinatra, wouldnít it have boring, in addition to more technically proficient? I, personally, prefer entertaining goodness to dull greatness, so Iíll welcome the actorís contemporary interpretation of Ben, warmly.

     In 1962, The Manchurian Candidate drew profound parallels to the political administration of its time period, and it still works on such a level, today. It offered intelligence, in addition to the mandatory thrills. This remake is light on the former and heavy on the latter, but it still confronts some current issues that are worthy of discussion (even if I do not agree with its opinion on them). But, a riveting film is a riveting film, and The Manchurian Candidate falls into this category. Itís quite an impressive ďre-imaginingĒ from quite an impressive director. Who could ask for anything more?

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (8.4.2004)

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