consider political candidates to be bought and paid for
by special interests. At least, they consider the other
guys' candidates to be in somebody's pocket. So why
not take it a step further, and make sure of it?
idea runs through the remake of The Manchurian Candidate,
a decent enough updating that still doesn't quite make sense.
Why go to all the trouble? But then, that's the problem
with being an American today; we're nowhere near as sure
who the enemy is as we were when the original film was released
in 1962. Then, it was clear. Now, director Jonathan Demme
only has to play upon the strings of our unease and dissatisfaction;
he doesn't have to actually give us any answers.
considering how much the screenplay by Daniel Pyne and Dean
Georgaris spells out. If anything, it's a little overplotted,
telling us exactly what to feel, though still often leaving
out that elusive "why?"
like Angela Lansbury, you're asking why bother with this
remake at all, Demme does have an answer. The once unthinkable
has become all too easy to consider, and what once played
as tense satire now seems all too plausible, and let's face
it: deep down, that scares the hell out of us.
a subtitle tells us The Manchurian Candidate takes
place today, it's more likely to be a few years in the future.
Demme and his screenwriters make subtle nods to the present
having spun out of control. In almost every public place,
military personnel keep an alert but circumspect eye out
for terrorists. Radio broadcasts allude to domestic attacks
at an alarming rate. The nuclear specter looms large. Neither
political party actually gets named, but odds are that Democrats
will claim Raymond Shaw (Live Schreiber) as a Republican
and vice versa. Having Al Franken cameo as a political pundit
other than himself only complicates the matter. Just who
is getting tweaked here?
proved himself a Gulf War hero, or at least, that's what
the public believes. But the men of his unit are dying off
at an alarming rate, all suffering from the same dream.
Not variations on a theme, but the same dream. Even the
commanding officer, Major Bennett Marco (Denzel Washington),
suffers from the nightly terror of a completely different
set of memories than his waking mind tells him he has.
the original film, the military seems willing to accept
that something is wrong. Our paranoia was so high that they
were looking for excuses to identify the enemy. But now,
we're trying not to rock the boat. Combat veterans do often
have mental problems, and so the military solution is to
heavily medicate a guy suffering from stress. Except Marco
isn't crazy, and sometimes Shaw knows it. Unfortunately,
also sometimes Shaw does not. Something did happen out in
the desert, and it's all going to come to fruition on election
keeps us off-balance visually, playing up nightmarish visions,
including one of a savagely painted middle-Eastern woman,
but call that a red herring. In fact, a lot of this film
is full of red herrings, though artfully placed. As tense
and effective as it is, you can't think about it too hard.
A character points out that there are simpler ways to brainwash
someone than the genetic modification mumbo-jumbo that is
thrown in to give this a modern feel (and make sure that
we have the requisite sinister British accents), and he's
right. It's always awkward when a character turns out to
be smarter than the script.
Demme keeps it moving so you don't ask questions. His cast,
as well, shines so strongly that you'll rarely look past
the glare. Schreiber channels the spirit of Laurence Harvey
effectively, though this script gives us far less to sympathize
about Shaw. Chewing scenery as Shaw's mother, a Hillary/Libby
Dole amalgam, Meryl Streep delivers another (yawn) nomination-worthy
performance. And Denzel…well, he deserves the stardom he
as smart as it would have you believe, The Manchurian
Candidate will still have you on the edge of your seat.
Because of its timing, it seems extra effective. But any
other year, it would just be a somewhat cool thriller.