Preview by: Jack Foley
SILENCE of the Lambs director, Jonathan Demme, may have been
a little quiet since achieving the Oscar-winning heights of his
definitive serial killer movie, but he appears to be back with
a vengeance with his latest thriller.
The Manchurian Candidate may be a remake of the 1962 film, starring
Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury, but judging
by the reaction from America, it marks a major return to form
for the director, while also being a worthwhile re-imagining to
The original told the story of a Korean War veteran who was brainwashed
by the Chinese as part of a Communist plot to assassinate the
president. It was itself based upon the novel, The Manchurian
Candidate, by Richard Condon, who also wrote the novel that inspired
The remake, however, finds Denzel Washington as US Army Major,
Bennett Marco, unable to sleep at night, as he is troubled by
nightmarish dreams of his time spent in Kuwait.
By day, Marco gives inspiring speeches about his platoon's ambush
in the desert, and the heroics of Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Liev
Schreiber), who was awarded the Medal of Honour for saving Marco's
But Marco becomes increasingly terrified by his dreams and begins
to privately wonder whether the two soldiers who died in the firefight
might have met darker fates than officially recorded.
His subsequent investigations question whether Shaw really is
the glorious hero that everyone thinks he is, and threaten to
undermine his bid to become vice-president, so much so that Marco
is forced to take on the growing might of the electoral candidate,
and his controversial mother (Meryl Streep), before he gains a
significant foothold in the corridors of power.
The original Manchurian Candidate remains one of the great thrillers
of its time, so remaking it was always going to be a difficult
Especially since, according to movie legend, the film’s
original star, Sinatra, became so traumatised by the assassination
of JFK a year after its release (and certain similarities between
the two) that he kept the film relatively unseen for over 20 years.
Prior to his death, however, Sinatra is said to have approved
the production of a remake, through his daughter, Nancy.
And up stepped Demme, who decided to put a contemporary spin
on the story, drawing in many issues that were relevant to America
And even though it was written by Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris
several years ago, and the movie was filmed in 2003, many of its
revelations and talking points feel as though they could have
been written last week.
Demme admitted to adding some stuff, late on, during recent press
junkets for the film in the States, but even he admits that ‘wound
up with not quite the fantasy movie we started out to make, a
sort of escapist cautionary tale; it took on added resonance as
events went on’.
And the trick seems to have worked, with US critics lining up
to heap praise upon it.
Variety, for instance, noted that ‘this
political thriller, about a brainwashed soldier being positioned
for the White House, provides a delectable network of dramatic
tripwires that teases the mind and quickens the pulse’.
While the Hollywood Reporter wrote: "Simultaneously
brings the original Cold War scenario bracingly up to date with
a story line that pulses with a topical resonance while paying
respectful homage to the late Frankenheimer's artistic vision."
Ebert and Roeper stated ‘…kudos
to Jonathan Demme for doing something different and not just trying
to duplicate that original classic’.
While website, The Movieboy.com, felt that it
was ‘absolutely riveting entertainment, a chilling portrait
of human paranoia also posing as an engrossing and visually vibrant
political thriller. This is one arresting film’.
Continuing the good word was the Los Angeles Times,
which wrote that it is ‘a psychological thriller that is
richer in texture and nuance than its predecessor without sacrificing
While Rolling Stone referred to it as ‘a
mesmerising mind-teaser that finds its own way into the material,
adapted from Richard Condon's 1959 novel’.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, meanwhile, was similarly
full of praise, stating that ‘Washington, Schreiber, Streep
and company - and Demme - have managed to make all the malevolent
machinations seem relevant again’.
While Philadelphia Weekly opined that it is
‘a dense and thorough reimagining of the material - it's
got the same mordant cynicism running through its veins, only
updated for an even darker, more jittery era’.
The New York Times, too, raved, stating that
‘Jonathan Demme, updating John Frankenheimer’s classic
exercise in cold war liberal paranoia, has made a witty, anxious
thriller for a new age of political uncertainty’.
The Dallas Morning News gets the final word,
however, concluding that ‘this is one popcorn movie that
provides food for thought, all the while remaining tense and witty’.