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Overall Rating

Awesome: 18.63%
Worth A Look49.02%
Average: 18.63%
Pretty Bad: 12.75%
Total Crap: 0.98%

8 reviews, 54 user ratings

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Manchurian Candidate, The (2004)
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by Erik Childress

"Why Are You Middle-Naming Me?"
4 stars

"Political doesn't scare me. Radical political scares me. Political political scares me," says movie producer Griffin Mill listening to a pitch in Robert Altmanís The Player. Thatís the one thing that resonated with me over the course of a film in which heíd certainly have no problem greenlighting, a modern remake of John Frankenheimerís The Manchurian Candidate. The material still resonates today and the masses familiarity with the title acutely provides an ironic twinge to gather them in droves. There isnít a whole lot to improve on, so any other explanation for the new-and-improved Paramount (this the second of three planned remakes for 2004) is nothing more than spin. The latest version results in a more scary than suspenseful affair, created in workmanlike fashion by all those involved.

Transplanting the action to the Gulf War, Denzel Washington (who covered similar territory in Courage Under Fire) plays Ben Mason, a Colonel whose troops were ambushed and then saved by one of their own, Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber). But the events of that day are unclear. A dozen years later, members of Masonís squad report of having the same nightmare over and over, providing pieces to the puzzle while they all stick to the same story. Word-for-word.

Raymond, meanwhile, has become a major young player in the corridors of Washington. Influenced by his mother, Eleanor (Meryl Streep), a career political dowager, his party is slyly swayed to consider him for the Vice-Presidential ticket. Things arenít adding up for Mason though who is quickly being convinced that something nefarious is afoot and naturally no one believes him. Not his superiors. Not Raymond. Not even Benís supermarket admirer (Kimberly Elise), unconvincingly trying to convince us that sheís in his life by chance.

If the remake does have one significant flaw is that itís sorely lacking in the twist department. Most will already know the source material and the previews certainly havenít been trustworthy in holding its secrets. The brainwashing aspect remains intact although its ultimate intentions seem less than sinister. No right-thinking individual will rebuke that money controls politics. The current administration is only the tip of an corporate-sponsored iceberg. But what Manchurian Global hopes to gain from their plan frightens our imagination more than what is never suggested on screen.

Jonathan Demme, who seems to do nothing but remakes these days (OK, to be fair itís only his second in a row) has had the paranoicís view from his camera for years with his characters talking directly into it. Never has it had a better place than it does here and never has it become as annoyingly obsessive. Most conspiracy-laced thrillers start with interesting conceits only to later develop into public chases and murders that no spin doctor or biased media could ever hope to cover up. Itís Demmeís best weapon for two-thirds of the picture before screenwriters (Daniel Pyne & Dean Georgaris) sieve in the original assassin concept which is way out-of-place and further more, unconvincing, even if its refreshing to see a politician take care of his own dirty work.

Demmeís not-so-secret weapons are his actors. Washington remains one of our greatest living actors . His constant martyrdom in film after film is probably only approached by Mel Gibson, but never before has he felt as hopeless and outright squirmy in a role. Liev Schreiber is one of my favorite untapped resources out there and his light switch alteration between evil and puppy dog is horrific and saddening. Meryl Streep takes on Angela Lansburyís historically evil mommy wedged between Norman Bates and Frank Boothís fantasies and it only takes 15 minutes to see the ďfor your considerationĒ marquee start flashing. Itís the first guaranteed supporting actress nomination lock of the year.

Itís good to have thinking adult thrillers like The Manchurian Candidate now and again. Only the more you think about it the more its logic begins to unravel. Oliver Stone or even Brian DePalma could have hit this out of the park and jazzed it up with more frightening politics or labyrinthian suspense. Demme does a more than functional job though, keeping the weight of its implications pressed down hard on the audience to keep them appropriately uncomfortable. As a film it works in the moment and repeat viewings likely wonít be as rewarding, but maybe it will allow us to think just enough to recognize the faults of today and improve them for tomorrow when the opportunity comes.

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originally posted: 07/30/04 13:16:55
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell a good remake imho 4 stars
4/04/12 Theodore Roosevelt How did they know in '04 that Rick Santorum would run for president in the near future? 3 stars
1/26/10 Jeff Wilder A fairly decent remake. Demme and cast make it work. 4 stars
7/22/08 the dork knight Pales in comparison to the first 2 stars
3/02/08 Pamela White not as good as the first but well crafted 3 stars
3/19/07 R.W.Welch Less plausible than the original with excessive mumbling. C+ 3 stars
1/31/07 action movie fan dull just like the first 2 stars
7/31/06 Scotty It was alright as a thriller, But I kept comparing it to the original. 3 stars
6/25/06 MP Bartley Good thriller. Keeps the attention if unlikely to linger long in the memory. 4 stars
3/11/06 Tanya Denzel is great as always 4 stars
1/16/06 Frank Rountree Well acted, interesting story 4 stars
11/15/05 noops just nothing special... 3 stars
8/12/05 yuko world peace...... 4 stars
4/18/05 Indrid Cold More sophisticated, but less intense than the original. 4 stars
2/17/05 Kathleen4691 Good adaptation of original, updated with new plot twists. 4 stars
2/15/05 Bobby da Squid Excellent acting saves the film from completely slipping into confusing paranoia 4 stars
2/14/05 Angela Saunders Disappointing, didn't live up to the hype, never ties up loose ends. 2 stars
2/11/05 HL Thousands of Better Movies..Thousands Worse. 4 stars
2/05/05 LilyM Well acted, but that's it. Quite boring; it doesn't duplicate the suspense of the original. 2 stars
1/02/05 DM Not as good as the original, but still gripping. 4 stars
12/31/04 Tjalda L. Schiel Another worthless remake 2 stars
12/30/04 Katie Evridge very good thriller. Unexpected ride! 4 stars
12/28/04 efrain radical. 5 stars
11/23/04 alien assassin not as good as the original, but well worth seeing 4 stars
11/05/04 One more paranoid American ďand all the while scarlet thoughts, putrid fantasies, and no loveĒ --Louis Auchincloss 4 stars
10/29/04 John Bale Excellent and timely hi-tech remake which does credit to Condons novel. 5 stars
8/25/04 nick2k not bad...a lil slower pace than i expected though 4 stars
8/22/04 joepuzzle The Best Movie So Far of 2004, Truly an Awesome Accomplishment on Every Level 5 stars
8/20/04 Jiz Halliburton is controlling Dick Cheney through his "pacemaker." This movie proves it. 5 stars
8/14/04 psycho dwarf Although thought-provoking, it engenders more confusion than debate. 4 stars
8/14/04 Desperado very good, good drama should have been called the Halliburton Candidate 5 stars
8/14/04 Obi Wan Good movie, not great. Seemed a lil slow sometimes 4 stars
8/10/04 John Larson So so, not all that greta and a bit far fetched. Loses focus and a bit unconvincing. 2 stars
8/08/04 Charlie Have not seen the original but found this very good entertainment. 4 stars
8/06/04 Agent Sands Good credentials, but the original was a bit better. Good POV shots. 4 stars
8/05/04 Mix Master Mason Look for Robyn Hitchcock as a double agent, brilliant. 5 stars
8/03/04 Brad Good movie...but nothing too amazing 4 stars
8/03/04 Sen John Yerkis Iselin I have in my hand 57 reasons why this mess can't hold a candle to the original masterpiece. 1 stars
8/03/04 Betsy Poor imitation of the original, although I enjoyed Streep channelling Hillary 2 stars
8/03/04 Obi Wan Very good film, good performances all around..good ending 5 stars
8/02/04 Scott great acting, deus ex Machina ending too fake 3 stars
8/01/04 marvin naiman FASCINATION AND MIND BOGLING 5 stars
8/01/04 Jacobtwotwo Not as nuanced as the original creates same creepy foreboding mood though. 4 stars
8/01/04 M Vallee Excellent - from beginning until the end 5 stars
8/01/04 Ian Definitely a movie to go see with your mother. All BS aside, a twisted, yet intriguing flik 4 stars
8/01/04 BB Essential viewing, great performances by Liev and Denzel--do not miss this one! 5 stars
7/31/04 Uncle Phucker Best movie of the year so far besides Spartan. 4 stars
7/31/04 Titus Nicely done, but a little lacking in places. Don't think about it too closely. 4 stars
7/31/04 arctic Denzel and Meryl can do wrong when it comes to acting 5 stars
7/29/04 NiraliKumar Good version of the original 4 stars
7/28/04 Large Farve Loved it, good suspense. Continuity be damned! 5 stars
7/24/04 Koitus Interesting remake. Had quite a few "disconnects," though. Meryl rocked! 3 stars
7/24/04 Ray Strong and interesting 5 stars
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  30-Jul-2004 (R)
  DVD: 21-Dec-2004



Directed by
  Jonathan Demme

Written by
  Daniel Pyne

  Denzel Washington
  Meryl Streep
  Liev Schreiber
  Jon Voight
  Kimberly Elise
  Ted Levine

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