"The Manchurian Candidate"
Directed by Jonathan Demme.
Written by Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris. 2004 screenplay
based on the 1962 screenplay by George Axelrod. Both
properties based on the novel by Richard Condon.
Starring Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber and
Release Year: 2004
Review Date: 7/31/04
I have seen the Frank Sinatra version of
"The Manchurian Candidate" (naturally, I haven't read the book), and
I loved that film, a story of paranoia and brainwashing that had me
going till the end, thanks to a plot twist late and generally the
best performance I have seen from both Sinatra and Angela Lansbury,
playing the crazy obsessive mother of the Candidate in that film,
played by Laurence Harvey.
I generally don't like it when people mess
with the classics, but when Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep
signed on to do a remake, I was intrigued...still, I thought it
wouldn't be any better than that 1962 classic, so why bother?
Now I see why they bothered; the 2004 update is one of my favorite
films of the year.
Directed by Jonathan Demme ("The Silence of
the Lambs"), the word "taut" kept popping in my head because even
though I know what is supposed to happen in this film, Demme does a
great job of keeping you on edge throughout. The plot has been
modernized but is essentially the same. Major Ben Marco
(Washington) has been having these strange dreams from his time
spent in Kuwait; he was the leader of a unit that was ambushed, only
to be saved by a reclusive Army consultant named Shaw (Liev
Schreiber). This is important, mostly because you are told
early on that Shaw seems to have nothing in the way of combat
skills, yet he suddenly has the skills to shoot down two enemy
choppers and defeat a small band of armed assailants.
Fast forward to the present (which, in this
movie, is four years from now): Shaw, a two-time seat winner
in Congress, is tapped to be the running mate for a presidential
nominee for the Republican party in 2008. Marco, still with
the military as a consultant, has been suffering paranoia for years
and decides to look for answers as to how Shaw could have risen so
quickly to power. Lots of people try and get in his way in a
search for the truth, including Shaw's mother (Meryl Streep), a
former senator that is hell-bent on getting her son into the White
House...one way or the other.
(Sidebar--Personally, I loved the way the
actual party is never identified in the film...but, from the sheer
number of red states on the CBS electoral board in one shot to the
black vice-president of the in-office party, I made a guess and said
that the bad guys are Republican. So, sue me.)
From the credits forward, I still can't
think of something in "The Manchurian Candidate" that I didn't like.
Washington is his usual self, and he plays the Mel-Gibson-in-"The
Conspiracy Theory" bit quite well. Schreiber has always been
reliable; normally a heavy or a bit player in his other roles, he is
quietly affecting as the lost soul of Shaw. He has a couple of
really just beautiful moments where he realizes that he has nothing
but what his mother says he's got; the funny thing is, I always
loved how the Shaw character (in both movies) doesn't seem so much
brainwashed as just a mama's boy, and knowing adults that did
something because their parents told them to do it is a reality that
has nothing to do with being spoon-fed mind-warping medication.
But, the pivotal role in "The Manchurian
Candidate" is supposed to be the mother, and Streep is brilliant
here. (Of course, when is Meryl Streep ever bad?) From
an early speech profiling why her character's son would be the best
person for the vice presidential nomination, to a spooky and
uncomfortable scene with mom and her handsome, half-naked son,
Streep is absorbing, diabolical, and believably insane at times, and
it all works. Lansbury was nominated for an Oscar for her part
in 1962; I don't think Streep will be, but she pinch hits as well as
anyone could have imagined.
The filmmaking is strong here as well;
again, the pacing and suspenseful elements are great. Acting
by all of the players is solid; the collection of supporting parts
by Jon Voight, Miguel Ferrer, Kimberly Elise (as a store clerk that
has, well, a lot more to do with the plot than that sounds), and
many other familiar faces (three alone from the TV show "24", from
my count) make "The Manchurian Candidate" look professional from all
angles. The cinematography is magnificent, and I was impressed
with the decision to go with mostly close-up, static shots of
characters as they talked to one another...watching all of
them--particularly Washington--stare into the camera is mesmerizing.
The score keeps you on edge, and while there are no sudden scares
the music keeps you waiting for something to happen, even when
there's not much going on.
I was very surprised when I walked out of
the theater; "The Manchurian Candidate" doesn't top the original but
it does stand side-by-side with other great political thrillers of
the last 20 years, easy.
Rating: Opening Weekend
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Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard