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The Manchurian Candidate

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

*Also starring: Liev Schreiber, Kimberly Elise, Jon Voight, Vera Farmiga, David Keeley, Jeffrey Wright, Sakina Jaffrey, Simon McBurney, Paul Lazar, Alyson Renaldo, Adam Lefevre, Robyn Hitchcock, Pablo Schreiber

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

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 so frequent.

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 nutters."

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

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