Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by director Jonathan
Demme and screenplay co-writer Daniel Pyne. The Enemy Within:
Inside The Manchurian Candidate. The Cast of The Manchurian Candidate.
Liev Schreiber Screen Test. Political Pundits with optional director
AT A time when the connection between powerful business corporations
and key presidential figures is never far from the headlines,
the arrival of a new Manchurian Candidate seems particularly pertinent.
Jonathan Demme's clever remake of the classic John Frankenheimer
movie (which, in itself, was based on Richard Condon's paranoia-strewn
novel) succeeds in delivering contemporary audiences a suitably
realistic 'what if' scenario and then keeping them gripped for
the better part of two hours. It's fair to say, Michael Moore
would have a field day.
The story, this time, finds Denzel Washington's Gulf War veteran,
US Army Major Bennett Marco, spending his days giving inspirational
lectures about his unit's ambush during the war, and the heroics
of platoon member, Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Liev Schrieber), only
to be haunted by memories of the same ambush by night.
When he is cornered by Geoffrey Wright's equally traumatised
former colleague, who claims to be suffering from the same hallucinations,
Marco is compelled to investigate and finds that Shaw might not
be the hero everyone thinks he is.
Yet to make matters worse, Shaw is being groomed as a potential
vice-president by his domineering Senator mother, Eleanor Prentiss
Shaw (Meryl Streep), and seems to have been turned into a pawn
in a much bigger game, making Marco's claims all the more difficult
Demme's movie, while bound to suffer
by comparions from anyone who loves the original, is a similarly
edgy affair that actually recalls the paranoia dramas of the Seventies
in an almost effortless manner - a ploy which increases the enjoyment
Shot in such a way as to heighten the sense of paranoia, dread
and fear which surrounds most of the characters, the film wisely
opts to play its cards close to its chest, forcing audiences to
work out for themselves who is telling the truth, and why.
As a result, viewers can never entirely be sure about the sanity
of Washington's character, or the complicity of Schrieber, even
though Streep's wildly exaggerated politician plays like a more
deviant version of Margaret Thatcher in her prime.
It's in the performances that the movie ultimately stands or
falls, and come the climax, which sees an assassin holed up at
a political convention, audiences should be suituably tense attempting
to work out who will survive - and who won't.
Washington, as ever, provides a commanding presence as the tortured
Marco, drawing in elements of the desperation and darkness which
helped to make his turn in Man on
Fire so memorable, while Schrieber gets the mix of creepiness
and charisma just right, continually toying with our perception
of him - is he a knowing pawn, or merely a victim of his mother's
manipulations? The scenes between the two crackle with energy.
Streep, too, cuts a formidable politician, even if some of her
histrionics veer towards the pantomime at key moments.
Yet, thanks to the urgency of Demme's direction, which has to
rate as his best since Silence of the Lambs, and the trickery
of screenwriters' Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris, who have clearly
swatted up on what makes this sort of thing work, the film remains
a compelling and downright exciting thriller which should keep
the conspiracy theorists guessing up to and beyond the nailbiting
It may be a work of fiction, but it certainly seems to delight
in stoking up the fires surrounding the current political climate.