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Manchurian Candidate Remake Falls Just Shy of Being Great

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • Updated May 07, 2013
<i>Manchurian Candidate</i> Remake Falls Just Shy of Being Great

Release Date:  July 16, 2004
Rating:  R (for violence and language)
Genre:  Thriller
Run Time: 135 min
Director:  Jonathan Demme
Actors: Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, Kimberly Elise, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright, Dean Stockwell, Miguel Ferrer and Jon Voight

Army Major Bennett Marco (Denzel Washington) is having a bad day. First, he’s interrupted during his speech to the Boy Scouts. Then, the interloper turns out to be a soldier from Marco’s unit in the first Gulf War. Private Al Melvin (Jeffrey Wright) seems like he’s crazy, but Marco can actually relate. In fact, Melvin is having the same nightmares as Marco, complete with brainwashing and torture scenes. And, just like Marco, Melvin also doubts that the deadly firefight which led to a medal of honor for squad Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) actually took place. Yet, like Marco with his speeches, the whole country is talking about that medal.

When Marco learns that Shaw, the son of the powerful Senator Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep), has been selected as the next vice-presidential candidate, he tries to speak to him, but Shaw isn’t interested. It doesn’t help that Marco has been diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome and seems to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as well, making him into one very paranoid-sounding guy. Either way, Eleanor Shaw isn’t going to allow anyone – especially a mentally-ill army officer – to sabotage her dreams, or her relationship with her precious son.

It’s no small thing to remake a classic film that is considered almost flawless, but director Jonathan Demme rises to the task. His previous film, “The Truth About Charlie,” was good, although it is this film that will establish Demme as a true force in Hollywood. It deviates substantially from the 1962 version, but that’s certainly allowed. After all, every generation has a right to create their own adaptation of favorite films.

Like the original, Demme’s version has a clear political message. The first film satirized the McCarthy proceedings, revealing Shaw’s mother as a Communist agent who wanted her husband in the White House. This one, set against the backdrop of the Gulf War, focuses on Hollywood’s favorite antagonist – big corporations, especially like Manchurian Global, which is using mind control to place its chosen candidate in Washington.  The only redeeming feature about this ultra-liberal message is the character of Senator Shaw, who goes by the nickname “Ellie,” is from New York, and looks, dresses, walks and talks exactly like a real senator from that state. In fact, I left the screening feeling very grateful that Senator Clinton has a daughter, not a son.

As always, Washington does a bang-up job, different from though just as good as Frank Sinatra’s Major Marco. I fully expect another Oscar for him for this haunting, memorable performance. Streep, who is positively evil yet almost understandable, is also likely to see one. Shreiber is good, too – very good – but despite his clear incestuous relationship with Streep, has little chemistry with her. Also, unlike Lawrence Harvey, who was thoroughly unlikable in the first film, it’s hard to understand why voters would not want Shaw in the White House (save his mother). Instead of the creepy, cold Shaw directed by John Frankenheimer, Schreiber gives us a distant though charismatic character, which throws the film slightly off-kilter.

With these exceptions, “The Manchurian Candidate” is a good film that falls just shy of being great. Definitely not for children or anyone who abhors violence, it’s nevertheless an impressive effort that is sure to be remembered during award season.

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:  Multiple scenes with alcohol (wine, beer, mixed drinks) and smoking.
  • Language/Profanity:  A handful of obscenities (including one f-word) and a few profanities.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Implied incestuous relationship between adult son and mother, including edited kiss; offscreen nudity; several scenes with upper male nudity.
  • Violence:  Very graphic violence. A man suffocates another man; a man shoots another man in the head; a man bites another man, drawing blood; a man cuts himself to remove implanted object; a doctor performs illegal surgical procedure. Men are brainwashed with scientific contraptions that draw blood. Also shooting, fighting, bleeding and war violence that includes helicopter crashes, fires, machine gun fire, guns and situations of armed combat that lead to various injuries and multiple deaths.