When it was first announced that The Manchurian Candidate (1962) was to be remade, it was met with mixed reaction. The original film,
directed by John Frankenheimer, is considered by many film historians to be the greatest political thriller ever, and would put it in the same
company as some of the best films of all time.
Those are some very high standards to meet, even for proven director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs). The Manchurian Candidate
(2004) is not as good or certainly as ground breaking as the 1962 version, but it is still a remarkably gripping and intense film that easily
ranks as one of the best movies this year.
Taking over the Frank Sinatra role of Captain Ben Marco is Denzel Washington. In the midst of the Gulf War, Marco's unit is ambushed and
he is knocked unconscious. When he comes to, it is revealed that Sergeant Raymond Shaw single handedly saved the unit, or so it seems.
Marco begins to uncover a plot devised by Manchuria Global Corporation involving computer chip implants and brainwashing through
vague visions in his nightmares.
My description doesn't do it justice, so let me just say the story is good, real good. And even if you have seen the original, just enough has
been changed so that it feels like a fresh experience.
In the original film, the most memorable performance came from Angela Lansbury as the mother of Raymond Shaw. In the update, Meryl
Streep takes over and does an excellent job in the films most challenging role. Denzel Washington is also excellent as the vulnerable,
slightly crazed hero. In fact, the entire cast is uniformly excellent.
Jonathan Demme is a master director of intense conversations and there are lots of them here. He very effectively employs his Silence of
the Lambs technique of having characters glare right into the camera while they speak. He also amplifies the creepiness to a level even the
already creepy original didn't have.
However, despite all the great achievements of this new version, it lags behind the original in a few areas. In the original, communists made
for better enemies than Manchuria Global, and the brainwashing scenes were far superior. The famous scene where a character is shot
though a milk carton is sadly changed for the worse. Also, the ending in the original was more clear and refined.
Those are minor complaints though, because the scenes that have replaced the originals are still good, just not as good. The Manchurian
Candidate is a gripping and hugely entertaining film. Go see it... go see it now...
* * * 1/2
(out of four)
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Written by: Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris
Starring: Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev
Schreiber, Jon Voight
Cinematography by: Tak Fujimoto
Music by: Rachel Portman
Released: July 20, 2004; 130 Minutes