The Manchurian Candidate

Dir: Jonathan Demme, 2004. Starring: Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber. Mystery/Thriller.
The Manchurian Candidate

Based on the 1962 John Frankenheimer Cold-War classic, The Manchurian Candidate is the story of a group of soldiers who, upon returning home from war, suffer painful flashbacks of torture and brainwashing. “Major Ben Marco” (Washington) grips to reality trying to get at the truth before a possible corporate-designed “sleeper” (Schreiber) is elected to the White House.

Oscar winner Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), helms one of the better remakes of classic cinema. The director is really able to illustrate the paranoia, warped sense of memory and the spiraling down into madness -- using the main character (Washington) as a mental road map.

The screenplay by Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgari, (based on the novel by Richard Condon and the original screenplay by George Axelrod) manages to contemporize the communist tale, moving the action into the Middle East of the first Gulf War. They retain the core elements of the story, while giving it a modern feel more accessible to today’s audiences.

Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography and Carol Littleton’s editing help set the stage and mood for this story of a man using the last shreds of his sanity to try saving the world from a corrupt regime.

Denzel Washington (American Gangster) plays “Marco”—an honest man who lives his life with honor, but comes to realize that politics is far from honorable. As always, Washington is solid, giving a frazzled performance.

As “Eleanor Shaw,” Meryl Streep (Doubt), reprises the role made famous by Angela Landsbury. Streep is an actress who brings weight to every role she plays, but is often at her very best when amoral and cold-hearted. Eleanor Shaw is a woman who believes in the power of her name above the powers of democracy and does whatever she pleases to get her way.

As the "Manchurian Candidate” in question, “Raymond Shaw,” Liev Schreiber (Defiance) delivers a very interestingly complex character as the programmed politician. A man born into public life who starts to wonder how he got where he is and who had to suffer for it.

The always engaging and proficient Jeffrey Wright (Basquiat) plays “Al Melvin”—a former soldier in Marco’s platoon who has all but lost him mind, shuffling through a hellish life full of flashes of inhuman misery.

Jon Voight (Deliverance) is solid as “Senator Thomas Jordan” – the would-be next Vice President, until Eleanor makes her power grab, thrusting him out to make room for her war-hero son.

The Manchurian Candidate is a great film for conspiracy buffs and one of the most engaging and interesting projects of Demme’s long diverse career as a filmmaker.

Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Feb 17, 2009 1:46pm
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