THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE
Review by Gordon Justesen
Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, Jon Voight, Kimberly Elise,
Jeffrey Wright, Ted Levine, Bruno Ganz, Simon McBurney
Director: Jonathan Demme
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 129 Minutes
Release Date: December 21, 2004
did they tell you what it is they want you to do? That’s what I gotta find
out. We gotta find out what’s gonna happen, where it’s gonna happen...”
we friends, Ben? I wanna believe we were friends.”
are connected and that’s something NOBODY can take from us. You could’ve had
me locked up but you didn’t. That’s proof that there’s something deep
inside. There’s a part that they can’t get to. And it’s deep inside us,
and that’s where the truth is. That’s our only hope. That’s what you and
me need to tap into, and that’s what you and I are gonna use to take them out,
Raymond. We don’t have much time, please.”
thought you were smarter than that. You don’t think they saw this coming, Ben?
You don’t think they factored you in? I am the enemy, Major Marco.”
Remaking such a great piece of work is a task that should
either be done with extreme caution, or not done at all. Such is the case with
the 1962 classic The Manchurian Candidate,
which is the mother of all paranoid political thrillers. But thankfully,
director Jonathan Demme has not dishonored the memory of John Frankenheimer’s
original film and has reinvented the film into a thriller that is just as
absorbing and gripping. In addition, this new version may come off as even
Truth be told, if there was a single film to come out in
2004 that was an effective look at politics, it was this film and not Michael
Moore’s movie. I’m not wanting to implicate in any way that what’s
depicted here is a statement of current politics. In fact, to look at this film
from a political perspective is too absurd even for words. No matter how many
times it is retold, The Manchurian
Candidate should be observed as a classic tale of a chilling act of treason
attempted by certain people in power. In both versions, Republicans and
Democrats are both seen as flawed parties; there is no better side of the two.
The action of the story has shifted from the Korean War to
that of a Persian Gulf War in 1991. The plot, however, is pretty much faithful
to the original movie. The hero is Major Ben Marco (Denzel Washington), a
veteran of Desert Storm who is being haunted by horrendous nightmares about
something that might have happened one night to him and his platoon, but the
details are difficult to recollect.
After a sudden encounter with a soldier named Melvin
(Jeffrey Wright) heightens Marco’s suspicions even more. The only thing that
seems to resonate with Marco is the moment a soldier in his patrol risked his
life to save the group of men during an enemy attack. Those actions resulted in
the soldier receiving a Medal of Honor for bravery.
The soldier in question is Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) who has just been nominated to be the next vice president of the United States. The nomination comes as a surprise not only to Marco, but to the political community as well. The gesture is obviously a result of pressure from Shaw’s domineering mother, Sen. Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep).
As the movie progresses, so does Marco’s ever expanding
suspicions about what could possibly happen if what his nerves are telling him
turn out to be true. When he discovers that a chip has been implanted right
under his skin, he fears that Shaw may have something similar implanted in him.
He tries to confront Shaw about the matter, and before long Marco’s actions
have him perceived as a crazed lunatic.
In my mind, Jonathan Demme has done something here that few
filmmakers will ever be able to accomplish in that he has created one of the
best remakes ever to be made. Demme’s uncompromising vision allows this new
version to be twice as psychologically effective. The sequences of the soldiers
undergoing the brainwash treatment are some of the most frightening moments
I’ve seen in any movie.
Demme’s trademark use of characters looking straight into
the camera during crucial dialogue sequences, as if talking right to the
audience, has never been put to better use. One such scene is one of the most
harrowingly gripping scenes of the year, where in which Marco makes a final
plead for Shaw’s help in stopping the unthinkable from happening. This
particular scene concludes with a nice little twist on the climax, which is one
of a couple differences from the original movie.
Of course, for the movie to be set in the present, the
villains of the story would have to change.
Since communism is no longer existing among us, let’s hope so, Demme
and screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris have found a fitting
substitute. Where as Manchurian was a underground communist party in the
original, a high-powered billion-dollar corporation named Manchurian Global, who
is funding the experiments on the soldiers.
The cast of actors is in a word, perfect. The star studded
lineup delivers stunning performances every bit as good as those in the 62
version. For Denzel Washington, this is something of a revelation, and the
actor’s best performance since his Oscar winning turn in Training Day. The sole notion that Washington, who we’re used to
seeing playing more strong willed and heroic types, is now portraying someone
who is powerless is a real treat.
But for my money, the movie belongs to Liev Schreiber in
the role of the puppet controlled by strings of a higher power. Every inch of
sadness within Shaw, as well as audience sympathy, is still in tact. It’s a
strong supporting role for who I consider to be a much underrated actor. On a
side note, Schreiber bares a close resemblance to Laurence Harvey, who played
Shaw in the original version.
To put it simply, though I don’t suggest that such other classic films get a makeover, the 2004 update of The Manchurian Candidate is the rarest of cases where the remake, or as I like to call it, reinvention manages to inflict just as much of a suspenseful and creepy effect as that of the original source. Credit Jonathan Demme for accomplishing the near-impossible and the strong cast of actors for elevating this timeless account of political corruption to newer heights.
has triumphed once again with an outstanding and superb looking presentation.
The anamorphic picture is one of flawless perfection. The image is thoroughly
clear, no matter what tones are used. The work of Demme and his longtime
cinematographer Tak Fujimoto has never looked more amazing. The strong detail of
the picture never lets up for a second.
5.1 mix is noting short of mind blowing. Though this is a film more dependent on
dialogue more than action, there are moments where the digital sound is put to
extraordinary use. The scenes of the brain-washing experiments incorporate some
creepy sound techniques, where in which all the channels deliver the effect.
Dialogue is nicely clear, and numerous set pieces, including a climatic
political rally, offer even more dynamic sound power.
though you won’t find a Special Edition label on this release, Paramount has
certainly included more than enough extras for it to be considered such. This
superbly loaded disc includes a commentary track with Jonathan Demme and
co-screenwriter Daniel Pyne. Also featured are two documentaries; “The Enemy
Within: Inside The Manchurian Candidate” and “The Cast of The Manchurian
Candidate”. Also included are 5 Deleted/Extended scenes with optional
commentary, outtakes with optional commentary, Liev Schrieber’s screen test,
political pundits with optional commentary, and bonus previews.