Worth A Look: 48.04%
Pretty Bad: 12.75%
Total Crap: 0.98%
8 reviews, 54 user ratings
|Manchurian Candidate, The (2004)
by Chris Parry
Remakes are a harsh mistress. they tease you with the promise of something better, something newer, something slinkier, but when you finally get them under the covers, you inevitably find them to be all show and no substance. "Nice trailer, shame about the face." The Manchurian Candidate, in my opinion, suffered greatly from the low expectations that usually come with a remake in today's cynical movie climate, and that's a damn shame because it's one hell of a film in its own right. Where the 1962 Frank Sinatra-starring version tipped its hat to fantasy, the new millenium version entrenches its fantasy in fact. Where the older film served as a warning for future generations, the new film serves to show us that the idea of putting a sleeper in the White House is no longer in the realms of the unreal. It's sad, in a way, that the filmmakers behind this project can never really hope to have the sort of impact they should have had, because their audience has really no idea just how close the events depicted on screen are to reality.Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) is a Gulf War veteran who served with honor. According to his memory, his crew were ambushed, a few of his compadres were killed, and his second in command, Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) came to the rescue by single-handedly killing the enemy. Shaw went on to receive the highest medal a soldier can be awarded, and he's now, with the help of his Senator mother (Meryl Streep) running for Vice President.
"Smarter, better, and (sadly) closer to the truth than it was in 1962."
But something doesn't sit well with Marco about all this, and his old troop mates seem to agree. They've all been having dreams where they're back in the war, only they're in a room with probes attached to their heads, where Shaw strangles one of his buddies with a plastic bag at the order of a strange white coat-wearing scientist. Why do they all have the same dream, and why is Shaw the only one who claims he doesn't? And why are all those around him suddenly showing up dead whenever they start to question the status quo?
Cue political intrigue, assassinations, the occasional piece of action and a whole lot of sneering by Denzel and Oscar-caliber acting by Meryl Streep. Unlike the run of the mill Denzel Washington action snorer that we've seen so much of through the last few years, The Manchurian Candidate is a smart, taut, thrill-delivering, edge of your seat piece of work that provokes the mind while entertaining it. The movie (and book) it was based on is over forty years old, but rather than go for a simple adaptation, Dean Georgaris (Paycheck and Tomb Raider 2) and Daniel Pyne (Sum Of All Fears, Any Given Sunday, Doc Hollywood) have taken little known modern day facts and woven them through their storyline to make the theme of the film far more poignant as a remake than it could ever have been originally.
In the original, soldiers were taken by the Chinese government (the Manchuria in the title), hypnotized and sent out to do their bidding. In the remake, the soldiers are taken by Manchurian Global, a mega-corporate 'investment' firm that features a boardroom filled with ex-Presidents, ex-Prime Ministers, arms dealers and Ayatollahs. In the minds of many who watch this film, that will be the first step on the way to sci-fi fantasy, but when you learn about a company called The Carlyle Group, which exists in the world today along very similar lines to Manchurian Global, you begin to see that this is far beyond the realm of 'what if' - this film is anchored in the here and now. Mixing that with not so subtle tilts at modern day American politics - the constant fight between ideologues and profiteers over how much corruption is to be allowed 'for the public good', the ongoing issues involving private companies being allowed to create private armies, the lazy efforts of the media to go along with the corruption rather than reveal it, and the very real problem of Gulf War Syndrome - The Manchurian Candidate leaves the sci-fi arena almost entirely and begins to look more and more like a modern day drama anchored in fact.
Where it comes undone is in trying to appear non-partisan - Democrats and Republicans are so intermingled in this film that you'd be hard-pressed, if you were uninformed, to understand the relevance to the world of today. Obviously the overriding factor in any large Hollywood production is to make money, not enemies, so the makers have tried as best they can to mask the true message behind the film, but if you have a dcent grasp of the facts in the current American political system, the barbs are as pointed as you could hope them to be.
Meryl Streep is a carbon copy Karen Hughes. Jon Voight's character, a hard-working, noble of intent former soldier? Definitely a John McCain. As for the rest, you can take any Republican currently in the White House, and any big businessman who contributes to their re-election funds, and you'll find their equivalent somewhere in The Manchurian Candidate.
Yes, I know, this was supposed to be a movie review and for some reason movie reviewers aren't supposed to get involved in political opinion. Well you know what? Sue me.
Look, here are the facts - when the Abu Ghraib torture scandal happened, the President blamed it on a handful of soldiers - a "few bad apples." The media accepted that and moved on, but since then we've seen dozens more soldiers, from many branches of the military, endicted on felony charges, from torture to assault to murder, and still the 'few bad apples' label persists. And even when Generals themselves admit that such behavior happens at other camps, in other countries, on a much wider scale, the media says nothing.
But when you dig further, you find far worse happenings. Private security companies are actually paid by the Pentagon to bring in civillian employees, who are not bound by the Geneva Convention, to 'interrogate' prisoners for the army. That means that guys like you and me are brought in, at huge expense, to beat the crap out of an Iraqi (who may or may not be an innocent person) to within an inch of their life, because we can't be prosecuted as war criminals and a solider can. If we're caught, the President calls us a bad apple and his hands are clean.
Now, that's not fantasy - that's fact. I've seen the actual job ads for 'Iraqi Interrogator' at the CACI website, along with the priviso that applicants must be able to work under "minimal supervision". Ouch.
So if I can find these and see how disgusting they are, why can't 'the media'? Simple: because they don't want to find them. They don't want to rock the boat, and anyone who does is quickly squelched. Earlier this year, when Michael Moore was trying to find theater owners who would show his film, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Carlyle Group quietly bought up a controling interest in the massive Loewes Theater chain. Why would a company that deals in diamond mines and arms sales and oil contracts suddenly be interested in a theater chain?
Why do YOU think?
The control of information is a terrible thing, and with every passing day we seem to be seeing more and more of the information age being controlled, watched, twisted and obscured by companies like Carlyle that seek to put their man into the White House (President Bush has been in the employ of Carlyle in the past, and his father was once a director of the company, though he resigned from it once the company was linked to the Bin Laden family post 9/11). what is absolutely brilliant about the Manchurian Candidate is, if you know about this kind of thing, it's a stinging indictment of the current administration in the US.
But if you know nothing more than what Rush Limbaugh tells you - if you're the kind of person that thinks George Bush is a "man of God" because he protects the fetus while dropping bombs on Iraqi children - then you won't see any reality in The Manchurian Candidate at all. That's a pity, because in years to come, when the history of the Halliburton/Carlyle era is written in stone as a period of American shame, you'll watch this film again and say, "Oh my God, they knew."
Trust me, people. There is a sleeper in the White House right now, and whether you want to look hard enough to realize it or not, that is an irrefutable fact. If you ask your presiden to ban automatic weapons, and the NRA and arms manufacturers are paying money to them while saying "you just leave those weapons alone" - who do you think the Prez is going to listen to?
You?My political rambling aside, this is a superb piece of filmmaking by directing icon Jonathan Demme, that surpasses the John Frankenheimer original in ways I didn't think possible. My best piece of advice to anyone considering going to see this film is this: See it, research it (http://www.democracynow.org is a good place to start), and vote accordingly.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=10268&reviewer=1
originally posted: 10/21/04 10:47:58