THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE
Jonathan Demme, Director

 


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Paramount Pictures, July 2004
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is the remake of the 1962 film classic that originally starred Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury. The story involves a brainwashed war hero and a rigged presidential race. It's a fascinating tale, and the timing of the release of this film during this year's presidential campaign makes it even more interesting.

Major Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) is the company commander of a unit on patrol in Kuwait, during Gulf War I. When they come under enemy fire, Ben is knocked unconscious and remembers little about the ambush. Yet strangely all the survivors recall the same events verbatim: that Sergeant Raymond Shaw 's (Liev Schreiber) heroics saved their lives. Shaw, the son of Senator Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep), is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, and a decade later becomes the new vice-presidential candidate. But Ben and his fellow veterans begin to suffer strange dreams and flashbacks in which they recall a different scenario.

On the eve of the election Al Melvin (Jeffery Wright), a veteran of the incident, confronts Ben with his altered memories. Ben goes on a search that leads him to uncover some frightening facts about scientific tests performed on soldiers and a connection to the powerful Manchurian Corporation.

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is a sophisticated and mesmerizing tale with a charismatic mega star cast. Denzel Washington is fabulous in the role of Ben Marco, a duty bound, yet tormented Gulf War veteran. He is an insomniac who reads romance novels to keep the nightmares at bay. In one particular scene he purchases the book, JUST THE WAY YOU ARE by Christina Dodd.

Streep delivers a chilling performance as a Hilary Clinton styled senator. Her powerful and politically savvy depiction of Eleanor Shaw as she commands the party's nominating committee is totally believable. If Streep's character is likely to be viewed as a nod to Hilary Clinton, then the Manchurian Corporation seems a veiled depiction of the Halliburton or Enron Corporation, but the political party in the movie isn't credited as the GOP or the DNC.

Liev Schreiber portrays Raymond Shaw with a detached, robotic approach that makes his performance easily eclipsed by Streep and Washington. Other outstanding performances were given by Jon Voight as Senator Jordon, with Kimberly Elise playing Raymond Shaw's ex-girlfriend. Comedian Al Franken makes a cameo appearance as a TV news anchor reporting on the presidential convention.

The film is based on Richard Condon's 1959 best-selling book by the same title. The original story takes place following the Korean War. Screenwriter credits go to George Axelrod, Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris. It's produced and directed by Jonathan Demme who also directed ADAPTATION, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and BELOVED. Production credits were also ascribed to Frank Sinatra's daughter, Tina Sinatra.

This is an intelligent and entertaining film, but not a completely plausible one. I would have cared more about it if I were not already so burned out on all the political news reports preceding this years presidential election.

August 2004

 

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