The Manchurian Candidate

© 2004 Ray Wong

Some people may question the reasoning behind remaking a 1962 classic that was already perfect. Obviously, the timing and the updated material seem suspect in this election year. Political agendas aside, it is only fair to judge this film on its own merits instead of comparing it to the original.

Captain Ben Marco is a decorated war hero suffering from the "Gulf War Syndrome." Over the years since the war, he has become a borderline recluse while watching his ex-comrade, congressman Raymond Shaw earn his Medal of Honor and rise to become a Vice President candidate.

Marco finds himself having troubles reconciling his recurring nightmares and what he considers memory of what happened in Iraq. When Al Melvin, a man who fought with him in the war, pays him a visit (and later drowns), he realizes that someone has brainwashed them, replacing their memories with manufactured ones. He also finds an electronic implant in his back.

Marco's investigation leads him to Shaw, who also shares the same nightmares. Like Marco, Shaw remembers "that things happened, but I don't remember doing them." Further probes lead Marcos to a mega-company named Manchurian Global, the biggest government contractor and a major backer to Shaw's mother, Senator Eleanor Shaw. Convinced that a conspiracy is in the works involving him and Shaw, Marcos becomes paranoid and desperate as the election draws near...

Washington (MAN ON FIRE) is intense and depressing as Marco, playing against type as the hapless protagonist who is jerked around like a sock puppet. Given the passive nature of the role, it is far from being Washington's most electrifying performances. Streep (THE HOURS) plays the conniving Eleanor Shaw with a fierce virtuoso. However, I find her role lacking convincing motivations, making her performance shallow. There is, however, a creepy scene with her son that hints at her complexity -- Alas! It arrives too late and too briefly. Schreiber (THE SUM OF ALL FEARS) excels in portraying the unlikely hero in Raymond Shaw as a flawed and complex man. The rest of the cast is good, including Voight (HOLES) as Eleanor's rival Senator Jordan, Wright (ALI) as the tormented ex-veteran, and Elise (BAIT) as the sympathetic stranger who helps Macro.

The script by writers Pyne (THE SUM OF ALL FEARS) and Georgaris (PAYCHECK) is lukewarm at best, missing the opportunities to deliver us a sharp political thriller. While the modern-day update is timely and interesting with the Iraq War and the 2004 election looming over us, the story still comes across as a tall tale as the stakes are simply too high and the motivations not clear and strong enough. Greedy corporations simply do not have the same credibility as evil communists.

Director Demme (THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE) has concocted a serviceable suspense/thriller with a quasi sci-fi tilt. His use of flash-cutting and extreme long shots is effective in tightening the tension. In general, however, the execution is lackluster and the plot is rather predictable, making the film a better candidate for the home theaters than the big screens.

Stars: Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, Kimberly Elise, Vera Farmiga, Jon Voight, Jeffrey Wright
Director: Jonathan Demme
Writers: Daniel Pyne, Dean Georgaris (based on novel by Richard Condon)
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA Rating: R for alcohol, violence, strong language


Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 6
Editing – 6
Production – 7

Total – 6.5 out of 10

No comments: