US Release Date: 07-30-2004
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
- Denzel Washington, as
- Ben Marco
- Meryl Streep, as
- Eleanor Shaw
- Liev Schreiber, as
- Raymond Shaw
- Kimberly Elise, as
- Vera Farmiga, as
- Jocelyn Jordan
- Jon Voight, as
- Senator Thomas Jordan
- David Keeley, as
- Adam LeFevre, as
- Congressman Healy
- Zeljko Ivanek as
- Vaughn Utly
Denzel Washington and Jeffrey Wright in The Manchurian Candidate.
The Manchurian Candidate is a remake of the 1962 Frank Sinatra version. Sinatra's daughter, Tina, is a producer on the new version. There are a few changes. The plot is updated to The Gulf war and the war on terrorist. In the original version, "Manchurian" referred to a place in Asia. In the new version, it stands for Manchurian Global, a large corporation.
Like the first version, a group of soldiers get captured and brainwashed. Washington plays the Sinatra role. He slowly begins to unravel the mystery of what really happened to him and the other soldiers. One of the other soldiers, Shaw, is now running for election as the Vice President of the United States.
Shaw's mother, Streep, is likewise a senator. She is ruthless, power hungry and not to be trifled with. Their relationship is, dramatically, the best and worst part of this movie. The scenes between this mother and son are usually disturbing and sometimes chilling. Mother claims all of her motives are out of love for her son and country. She leads her son around by his nose the entire movie. Why then, does she have to go to such lengths to make sure things happen as she wants them to. If the guy is already such a momma's boy, then what's the point of her extreme measures?
Politically, the movie is all over the place. The words democrat and republican are never spoken. The makers of this movie obviously wanted to avoid attaching a particular political party to any character, although real life liberal Democrat mouthpiece, Al Franken has a small role as a reporter who interviews Streep's Senator. You could definitely find comparisons in Manchurian Global to Halliburton. You could also draw comparisons between Shaw running for election on his supposed military heroism and John Kerry doing likewise in real life.
Denzel Washington seems, to me at least, to be getting better with age. In the past, I have taken little notice of his acting. In this film, Washington is riveting! His performance keeps the movie from going over the top.
Streep chews up the scenery several times. Early in the movie, she gives a roaring speech to a group of politicians who dare to suggest they go with someone else on the ballot for veep. "We can give them heat! Give them a war hero forged by enemy fire in the desert in the dark!" She barks at them. In another scene, she humors her son by playfully calling him "my plucky idealist."
Schreiber plays Shaw as an ice cube. In most scenes, he is emotionless. Only occasionally does he allow some feelings to come through this very confused character. Often Shaw is confronted with something and Schreiber almost appears as if Shaw understands something. But then it is gone again. Schreiber plays Shaw as a man on a tight rope. He definitely wants to step in another direction, but for some reason, unknown to him, he just can't.
Meryl Streep in The Manchurian Candidate.
Being a big fan of the original, I was a little leery of this remake and only went to see it after reading Eric's enthusiastic review. And while I wasn't quite as thrilled with it as he was – due in part to knowing exactly where the movie was going – I did enjoy it and agree with him on several points.
First and foremost, like Eric I found Denzel to do an amazing job in this movie. In the past, I too, have found him to be overrated, but ever since his Oscar winning role in Training Day, Denzel seems to just keep getting better. I think my biggest complaint about this movie is that it doesn't deviate enough from the original and therefore lacks surprises for anyone who's seen the Sinatra version. However, through Denzel's character we see the events as if for the first time. As he unravels the mystery, so do we, and so that even though I knew what was going to happen, I remained interested.
I also couldn't agree more with Eric's assessment of Streep. Only an actress of her caliber could deliver some of her lines without sounding ridiculous. At the same time though, she is such a formidable character that I found it hard to believe she would need to go to such extremes to get her son in power, when she obviously has the power to manipulate her un-named political party into doing whatever she wants them to do. If she had been powerless to make things happen, her actions would have been more easily explained.
While the original will always hold a special place in my heart, I think that if I had seen this one first, I would have preferred it to the original. There are several improvements this time around, not the least of which is the elimination of the flashback scene that shows Shaw falling in love with Jocelyn. In the original, I always felt it slowed the movie down, and here it is wisely only referred to. Schreiber is able to convey that he loved this woman and so we don't need to be shown it. Also, by making Shaw the vice-presidential nominee, instead of his step-father (a character removed completely from this version) adds to the tension and allow's Denzel to play a more conflicted and direct role in the events that unfold.
The one element that was left out this time around was the deck of cards. The Queen of Diamonds as Shaw's trigger might not have been the most subtle bit of symbolism, but it remains an iconic cinematic image.
Photos © Copyright Paramount Pictures (2004)