The Manchurian Candidate
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Jonathan Demme
scr Daniel Pyne, Dean Georgaris
with Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, Kimberly Elise, Vera Farmiga, Jon Voight, Simon McBurney, Jeffrey Wright, Bruno Ganz, Miguel Ferrer, Zeljko Ivanek, Anthony Mackie
release US 30.Jul.04, UK 5.Nov.04
04/US 2h10

Face off: Washington and Streep

washington streep schreiber

NB: The original 1962 film
is one of SHADOWS’ TOP 100

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Remaking a classic is risky; maybe Demme is trying to atone for his dire Charade revamp (The Truth About Charlie). But this solid thriller only works if you're unfamiliar with the 1962 original, one of the best films ever made. Those who know the original will wish Demme had done much more than just touch on what's happening in American politics today.

Gulf War veteran Ben Marco (Washington) has strange dreams about an incident in Kuwait involving one of the soldiers under his command, Raymond Shaw (Schreiber), who on that fateful day in Kuwait became a hero. This led to a shining future as a Congressman and now perhaps his party's Vice Presidential nominee. Could his mother (Streep), a powerfully ambitious senator with real attitude, be any more proud? But as Marco digs into his jumbled memories he makes some eerie discoveries, a conspiracy begins to emerge, and Marco finds it hard to trust anyone.

This is an smart, snappy script, rocketing through the material in a way that almost dares us to keep up with it. This succeeds in putting us immediately on Marco's side, and Washington is as sympathetic as ever (maybe too much so--the film never makes the most of his talents as an actor). We are right with him through every wrinkle in the story, each new discovery sends chills up our spines, and each face off between important figures builds real tension, especially when the updated plot touches on some seriously important issues (the title now refers to the greedy multinational Manchurian Global).

Alas, Demme doesn't quite go for the jugular. After dropping this tasty titbit in our laps, he veers back in to thriller-land and continues to engross us without making us squirm too much. As it progresses, Streep steals the film with her delightfully entertaining scene-chomping, while Schreiber slowly builds a performance of real power to become the heart and soul of the tale. As far as thrillers go, this is well above average. But in shying away from saying something revelatory, it's not a patch on the original.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 7.Sep.04

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... The Manchurian Candidate Robert, New York: "The original Manchurian Candidate is one of best films ever made, there's no question about it. Very few films have impacted me more. When I heard that Jonathan Demme (who directed another favorite of mine, Silence of the Lambs) was directing a remake, I was excited. Others may have been appalled that anyone would dare do it, but I was very excited. Thankfully, the movie didn't disappoint. It was intelligent, creepy, taut, enjoyable, unique and brilliantly acted. Denzel Washington shows a more vulnerable side as the confused Bennett Marco. Meryl Streep (in the classic Angela Lansbury role) steals the show as the power-hungry maniac that is Eleanor Shaw. The most powerful performance, however, came from Liev Schreiber as Raymond Shaw. Schreiber had the most difficult role, as he needed to show that Shaw was a good man, torn apart by corruption. He deserves an Oscar nomination. The Manchurian Candidate (2004) is one of the best films of the year." (16.Nov.04)
© 2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall