Let it be known right off the bat that I have not seen the original The Manchurian Candidate, which was released in 1962 and directed by the late, great John Frankenheimer. This review will reflect how this update of the film stands in its own right.
War stories are among the most interesting, thought-provoking, and emotional stories that one can listen to, let alone tell. Many of us have relatives who were in a war, and many of us have listened to the stories they have to tell, should they choose to tell them.
The Manchurian Candidate deals with a different type of war story than the “typical” war stories we hear about. This film deals with the brainwashing of soldiers by a major global company (Manchurian) in the hopes of getting a man that they “programmed” in the White House, which would ultimately give the company dominant world control. Allow me to explain further.
We meet Ben Marco (Washington) and his fellow soldiers, including Raymond Shaw (Schreiber), during the Gulf War in Kuwait in 1991 at the start of the film. A battle breaks out, and Shaw saves nearly all of his fellow soldiers in an act of courage that earns him the Congressional Medal of Honor, and boosts the political career that he starts after the war.
But not so fast. Marco and some of the soldiers in the group have started experiencing strange dreams of being brainwashed, semi-tortured, and forced to kill their fellow men. Are these dreams or reality? Marco begins to investigate.
Shaw, now the Vice Presidential candidate for office, denies having these dreams. His fast-talking Senator mother, Eleanor (Streep), has helped him get as far as he can and he’s not about to let that slip away.
I really hesitate to discuss the plot further, as it twists and turns about every ten minutes after the initial hour. Marco’s investigation eventually leads him to a big wig company named Manchurian Global, political corruptness, and an ending that will have people talking for some time to come. This is not your standard politically driven movie.
The main strengths of The Manchurian Candidate lie within its incredible acting. Washington is great as usual as Marco, a man deeply scarred by his Gulf War experiences. Streep is outstanding, if not over the top in some scenes, as Raymond’s overbearing mother. Liev Schreiber has been underrated as an actor for some time, and he is what holds this film together in the end. His portrayal of Raymond is emotional and realistic; a man who truly does not know what is going on with himself. He is not a traditional villain, but just a toy.
Jonathan Demme (most known for The Silence Of The Lambs) directs the film with confidence. He knows he has immense talent on his side, and he lets them roll with it. He does an excellent job of maintaining a creepy and foreboding atmosphere, all the while making us believe that something like this is not completely ludicrous (which for many it will be).
The ending is quite a barn burner, and will probably be debated and discussed as much as the ending to M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. The events which take place in the film’s climax are far from cut and dry, and many will not understand the character’s motivations to do what they do. I will refrain from giving anything away, but be prepared for a controversial and foggy ending.
With all that said, The Manchurian Candidate is a strong film, but not one that will have truly long-lasting value. This is a good old-fashioned thriller, nothing less, and nothing more.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Length: 130 Minutes
Rating: R for violence and some language.
Theatrical Release: July 30, 2004
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Written by: Daniel Pyne & Dean Georgaris. Based upon the 1962 screenplay by George Axelrod. Based upon the novel by Richard Condon.
Cast: Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, Kimberly Elise, Vera Farmiga, Jon Voight