The Manchurian Candidate (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner22/10/2004

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 130 mins

Impressively directed, well acted political thriller that is both gripping and disturbingly relevant – a rare case of the remake being as good as the original.

It sounded like a terrible idea on paper: Jonathan “The Truth About Charlie” Demme remaking John Frankenheimer’s classic political thriller. Hadn’t Demme learned his lesson? Not only was ‘Charlie’ also a remake (of Cary Grant / Audrey Hepburn thriller Charade), but it was, hands down, the worst film of last year and a strong contender for one of the worst films ever made.

Fortunately, Demme has completely redeemed himself, because his updated remake of The Manchurian Candidate succeeds as both a gripping political thriller and as a timely critique of contemporary politics.

Original Updated And Rehashed Brilliantly

Denzel Washington takes the Frank Sinatra part and stars as Major Bennet Marco, a career soldier who gives lectures on his platoon’s ambush during Desert Storm and the heroics of his former sergeant, Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber, in the Laurence Harvey part). However, Marco is privately haunted by nightmares that suggest a very different version of events and when Shaw is announced as a vice-presidential candidate in the next election, Marco realises that he has to act on his suspicions.

Aided in his investigation by another ex-platoon member (Jeffrey Wright) who shares his nightmares, Marco gradually uncovers evidence of a conspiracy involving Shaw, his mother, Senator Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep) and the sinister Manchurian Global Corporation…

In Frankenheimer’s 1962 version, it was the Communists who were the enemy. However, in a political climate that can encompass the Enron scandal, it makes sense for Demme to swap Commies for Corporations. Aside from that, Demme is clever enough not to be too specific – you won’t hear the words “Republican” or “Democrat” in the entire movie, although savvy politics-watchers will no doubt be able to draw a few parallels.

At any rate, the script is intelligent and leaves you with plenty to think about, as well as offering up chilling lines such as Eleanor’s comment to Raymond that, “The assassin always dies, baby – it’s necessary for the national healing.”

Washington Superbly Obsessive Again

The performances are excellent, particularly Washington, who again taps into his obsessive streak (see also Man On Fire) and creates a character who is far removed from the typical hero figure – in one ‘spy-cam’ shot, Marco is seen clutching scraps of paper and muttering to himself as he leaves the Subway, so he looks like a paranoid nutcase.

Schreiber is equally good and Meryl Streep nearly steals the entire film as his scheming, ambitious mother. There’s also great support from Jon Voight, as well as tiny cameos from the likes of Dean Stockwell, Bruno Ganz, Ted Levine and Miguel Ferrer.

There are some terrific scenes here – a particularly bonkers highlight involves Marco attempting to bite a computer chip out of Shaw’s back and there’s also a brilliantly shocking scene involving Jon Voight in a kayak. In addition, Demme peppers the film with some nice references to the original, but, crucially, he also pulls off an original twist of his own, just as you think you know what’s about to happen.

In short, The Manchurian Candidate is that rare thing, a remake that’s not only worthy of the original but also brings something new to the film. Recommended.

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The Manchurian Candidate (15)
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Content updated: 16/12/2017 05:16

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