Jonathan Demme's THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is a gripping and intelligent
thriller that has both an immediacy and a timelessness. It is set at a time
when terrorists' attacks in the world have become so commonplace that they've
almost become background noise. Both political parties offer platitudes about
the situation ("Democracy is not negotiable." and "We must secure tomorrow
today."), yet neither party seems truly concerned since the attacks have become
A remake of John Frankenheimer's film from 1962, the movie changes several
things including the villain. This time it's not the Communists but today's
favorite whipping boy, global industrialists, who are the leading sinister
forces in the world. Believing they are capable of the diabolical actions
described in the story is one of many problems with the plausibility of the
script. In Demme's picture, however, it is easy to suspend disbelief. Sure,
there may be logical problems, but everything is just believable enough so that
you won't care.
The terrific cast are all at the top of their form. In a performance likely to
garner her another Academy Award nomination, Meryl Streep gives a
take-no-prisoners performance as Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw. (Angela
Lansbury received an Oscar nomination for her role in the 1962 version.) She
is a ruthless politician from an old political clan that appears modeled on the
Kennedys. Her party is never named, but it wins all of the states normally won
by the Democrats. Her son, Raymond (a never better Liev Schreiber), is a
political neophyte who has been in Congress for just four years when his party
picks his boyish face as the one they want for their Vice Presidential
candidate. Again, quite timely.
Raymond's claim to fame is that, as a war hero in Desert Storm, he won a well
deserved Congressional Medal of Honor. Denzel Washington plays the troubled
Ben Marco, Raymond's Captain in the war and now a Major who is believed to be
suffering from psychological problems due to Gulf War Syndrome. Ben finds that
everyone in his unit has been having the same strange dream that calls
Raymond's heroism into question. Soon Ben is ranting like a maniac about
electronic implants and brainwashing, which gets him into trouble with the
Secret Service, the FBI, the Army and just about everyone else since they think
he is deranged.
There are numerous other wonderful small performances in the film. Perhaps the
best of these is by Jon Voight, who plays Senator Thomas Jordan, a long-time
senator who lost the chance at being his party's candidate for the vice
president when the party went with the younger and more photogenic Raymond.
Ben tries to tap Thomas for help with proof of a vast conspiracy that he has
uncovered through research he has done on-line. A disbelieving Thomas
ridicules Ben's handiwork, saying, "Internet -- sacred sanctuary of idiots and
Ben's cold sweats and manic behavior insure that we feel his pain and torment.
Others may not believe his ramblings, but we do. This thinking person's
thriller satisfies consistently, right down to the last frame.
THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE runs 2:10. It is rated R for "violence and some
language" and would be acceptable for teenagers.
My son Jeffrey, age 15, gave the film *** 1/2, saying that it had him literally
on the edge of his seat the whole time. He thought the acting was great, and
the film was thoroughly enjoyable.
Copyright © 2004 Steve Rhodes