The Manchurian Candidate
June 26, 2005
Starring: Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, Jon Voight, Kimberly Elise, Jeffrey Wright, Ted Levine, Bruno Ganz, Simon McBurney, Miguel Ferrer, Dean Stockwell, ,
Remaking classic movies is almost always a bad idea and usually done for all the wrong reasons. Case in point: Gus Van Sant’s much-maligned misfire, Psycho (1998). There is a reason why these movies are so highly regarded—they don’t need to be remade. That being said, a case could be made for The Manchurian Candidate (1962), a brilliant critique of cold war paranoia that also eerily anticipated the Kennedy assassination. Jonathan Demme’s remake (2004) takes the film’s original concept and updates it for our current political climate.
Bennett Marco (Washington) and Raymond Shaw (Schreiber) are decorated veterans of the first Gulf War. Shaw even saved the lives of Marco and his squad. After a public speaking gig at a school, Marco runs into one of the men (Wright) from his squad. He’s disheveled and babbling about nightmares of the night in Kuwait when they were attacked and saved by Shaw. The war hero is now making a bid for the Vice-Presidency and being groomed for the position by his domineering mother, Eleanor Shaw (Streep).
Meanwhile, Marco sits at home obsessively collecting press clippings of Shaw and falling asleep in front of the television. He suffers from horrible nightmares where he and his squad are being brainwashed. Both he and Shaw are ordered to kill a comrade as proof that their conditioning works. As Marco investigates the surviving members of his squad, he begins to realize and remember that something happened to him and his men. The nightmare he suffers from might not be just figments of his imagination. Of course Marco is labeled as some kind of crazy nut with outlandish theories and suffering from Gulf War syndrome.
With the seemingly pre-programmed politicians who speak only political doublespeak soundbites, it’s not that far-fetched that one could be brainwashed for more ominous motives. It isn’t Communists that are the bad guys in this version but ultra-powerful corporations interested in making money and one way is being able to influence political policy. After all, wars mean big, lucrative contracts for weapon and vehicle manufacturers. No war, no money.
Meryl Streep is a real treat to watch as a shrewd, political savvy lady who ruthlessly wants her son to win at any cost. She sees herself as a patriot (albeit with a skewed perspective) and Streep gleefully chews up the scenery with fanatical gusto benefiting her character.
Liev Schreiber is good as the conflicted Shaw. He is able to convey the conflicted nature of his character—the sinister side that lurks underneath his perfect, almost too perfect façade.
Denzel Washington is also good as the increasingly haggard and paranoid Marco. The deeper he gets into the conspiracy, the more his world threatens to unravel. Washington does an excellent job of showing how Marco tries to keep it together. Coupled with the intense portrayal of his conflicted character in Man on Fire (2004), Washington plumbs the depths again with this equally tortured protagonist.
There is an audio commentary by Jonathan Demme and co-writer Daniel Pyne. They talk at length about the film’s script and how Pyne updated Richard Condon’s novel. Even though Pyne wrote the screenplay two years ago, a lot of the military stuff started happening for real as they were making the movie. It’s a chatty, informative track as the two men compliment each other often and speak eloquently.
“The Enemy Within: Inside The Manchurian Candidate” touches upon how Frank Sinatra’s daughter, Tina, bought the rights back from United Artists with the idea of making an updated version of the original film. Demme wanted to make a paranoid thriller with Denzel Washington. The real science behind modern brain manipulation is examined in this informative extra.
Also included are five deleted/extended scenes with optional commentary by Demme and Pyne totaling nine minutes. There is a flashback that fleshes out the relationship between Marco and Shaw a little bit more. Demme and Pyne talk about why these scenes were cut because they conveyed too much information and lament having to edit them out even though they fleshed out the relationships between certain characters.
There are two outtakes with optional commentary by Demme and Pyne including a funny interview between Eleanor Shaw and Al Franken. Demme points out that Meryl Streep tried to make Franken crack up during the scene by making increasingly outrageous statements.
“Liev Schreiber Screen Test” features the actor reading a scene from the movie with Streep. It becomes evident why he was cast as he nails the test.
“Political Pundits,” with optional commentary by Demme and Pyne, features six people from various walks of life (filmmakers, writers, comedians) that were interviewed to be used as soundbites in the film.
Demme has made a film for our troubled times that is as much a stinging indictment of President Bush’s regime as Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004). The Manchurian Candidate does a good job of underlining the powerful and insidious relationship between politicians and the corporations that financially back them and their motivations for doing so.