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Overall Rating
3.71

Awesome: 18.81%
Worth A Look48.51%
Average: 18.81%
Pretty Bad: 12.87%
Total Crap: 0.99%

8 reviews, 53 user ratings


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Manchurian Candidate, The (2004)
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Exciting, honorable remake."
5 stars

Nobody plays solitaire in Jonathan Demme's rendition of 'The Manchurian Candidate,' and I wondered why until I reflected on the meaning of the card game in the original 1962 film, wherein a brainwashed soldier was triggered to kill by the sight of the queen of diamonds. In 1962, red didn't just mean blood; it meant commies, and the red queen was ... well, let's not spoil anything.

Today, communism isn't a big worry; terrorism is, and, for some of us, the bigger worry is a government that takes away our rights in the name of fighting terrorism and does deals with corporations that profit handsomely from military operations. Thus, in the remake, the puppetmaster is not Manchuria but Manchurian Global, a Halliburton-like outfit represented by three shady guys, including a stogie-waving Dean Stockwell.

How does the new Manchurian stack up to the old? For some, nothing can replace John Frankenheimer's original, so far ahead of its time that it was considered a lurid paranoid fantasy until JFK was shot and the '60s started getting weird and scary. Under Frankenheimer's rock-solid direction, Frank Sinatra actually bestirred himself and gave a performance, and the script included many winking, cynical references to the way things really worked (such as the way the McCarthy-esque senator comes up with the magic number of 57 communists). Both films, I think, need to be viewed within the context of their times, and Demme's Candidate is, if anything, more relevant to 2004 than Frankenheimer's was to 1962 (in retrospect it seems more prescient than relevant).

After a few questionable moves (including his previous film, the flop remake The Truth About Charlie), Demme puts on his game face and remembers the instincts that led him to fortune and glory with The Silence of the Lambs. His Manchurian Candidate honors the original in every way -- mainly by being its own reckless beast, powered by unstable, off-center camerawork (and many, many huge, staring-right-into-the-back-row close-ups). Demme's filmmaking has lost none of its jazz, and some of the uglier moments -- like the flashbacks and dreams, glimpses of medical mutilation and horror -- rival the creep-out factor in Silence. His casting remains as quirky as ever, too; it's a kick to see Demme regulars like Charles Napier, Tracey Walter, and even Robyn Hitchcock in an $80 million Paramount thriller opening in almost 3,000 theaters.

Denzel Washington takes the Sinatra role, as war veteran Ben Marco (this time it's Desert Storm rather than the Korean War), who has been having odd dreams about a soldier in his unit, Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber, doing his best to out-icicle Lawrence Harvey). Washington is one of those actors Alfred Hitchcock would've loved -- he projects decency and intelligence, so we believe him when he starts talking crazy, even when no one else does. Marco has doubts about Shaw's heroic actions in battle, not to mention Shaw's domineering mother (Meryl Streep, enjoying herself sinfully), who's grooming him for the vice-presidency. Along the way, Marco encounters such oddities as skin implants, Jeffrey Wright as a stammering veteran with walls full of anguished scribblings, and Kimberly Elise as a supermarket cashier who might be overqualified for the job.

I can only hint and suggest from here, but suffice it to say that if you've seen the first Manchurian Candidate, you don't know how the new one ends (I approve of the change, and it works well with the Oedipal subtext, which Demme and his writers ratchet up a bit). I don't think the words "Democrat" or "Republican" are spoken in the film, but this is still likely the most electrifying political movie made in this country since Oliver Stone's JFK (and yes, that includes Fahrenheit 9/11). What effect, if any, will it have on the presidential election? I don't know, other than maybe making a few impressionable moviegoers scrutinize Kerry and Edwards, looking for the red queen behind Edwards.

The not-very-subtle parallels to Halliburton won't make Bush supporters happy, and the implication that politicians who talk the little-guy talk are really in thrall to the fatcats probably isn't what the Kerry campaign wants people to muse on, either. Like the original, this 'Manchurian Candidate' is an equal-opportunity troublemaker.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=10268&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/15/07 15:17:30
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User Comments

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 “and all the while scarlet thoughts, putrid fantasies, and no love” --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 ownerofdajoint SCARY STUFF ABOUT WARMONGERS AND MILITARY LEMMINGS..A BAD COMBO..DENZEL'S GREAT.. 4 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
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  30-Jul-2004 (R)
  DVD: 21-Dec-2004

UK
  N/A

Australia
  28-Oct-2004


Directed by
  Jonathan Demme

Written by
  Daniel Pyne

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



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