Posted on 8/06/04 07:06 AM
Raymond Shaw (Liev Schrieber), a political candidate running to become the Vice President of the United States - being guided by his aggressively ambitious mother, played by the always wonderful Meryl Streep - is campaigning on the platform of his war hero experience of the Gulf War as the driving force of his campaign. The only problem is that his superior officer during the time, Ben Marco, played by Denzel Washington, doesn't recall it in that very manner. As the clues begin to add up to each other, Marco takes the iniative and investigates whether the Shaw is the key factor in a cover-up or and if the conspiracy goes a bit deeper than it is on the surface.
Whenever you hear about some company buying the rights to remake a classic, the usual reactions is usually one of disgust. One that I had when I heard they were remaking the original Manchurian Candidate from 1962 starring Frank Sinatra. But with the world we live in now, now is probably the best time to do so. Jonathan Demme, Academy Award winning director of Silence of the Lambs teams up with Academy Award Winners Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep in a very inspired revamping. Not only is The Manchurian Candidate one of those remakes that's surprisingly well-done, but it's also one of those remakes that almost rivals the original and doesn't bring down it's credit in anyway.
As opposed to using the Cold War period as the backdrop to the story, director Jonathan Demme and his crew use our country's current "state of union" as material to interweave such an engaging thriller. Those evil, giant corporations that have their underhanded connection to politics are the one of the many catalysts of the film. For those who saw Fahrenheit 9/11, this just might mirror what's currently happening in Washington, D.C. at the moment. Another bonus - the hysteria of the undertoned homeland security hysteria gives a perfect platform to how someone as politically corrupt as Shaw would rise to power in the first place.
Demme effectly creates an intentionally sharp political tension, and fear, which almost causes the viewer to become claustrophobic at some parts of the picture.
Denzel Washington, who seemly hasn't been searching for an acting challenge, plays another one of those rigid characters that he's been crafting as of late (ala Training Day) and even throws in a few glimpses of his work from Man On Fire earlier this year. But Denzel holds up quite well in this film, with his increasingly persperated concentration on his goal, which Demme seems to exploit right on the money.
Liev Scheiber, another young acting veteran, delivers an almost spine-tingling performance as Robert Shaw - almost as spine-tingling as Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector, in a mild way - trying to balance out between being a brainwashed political drone or a confused man with no place to go...
But the real winner goes to the not surprisingly amazing Meryl Streep. She's not a 13-time Oscar nominated actress for nothing. Her short time spent on screening is rewarding to the viewer, since she just eats everything up as she gives another entertaining performance. Playing Eleanor Shaw, she proves to be the only real obsticle in Marco's path to truth, as Demme throws in some seriously heavy undertones that add to the tension between the two - almost reeling you on the edge of your seat on occasion. Streep brings life to film, flawlessly.
But with this being 2004, the ending to this updated version of the classic has been "softened up" a little bit. That's Jonathan Demme's only weakness when it comes to silencing the deadly blow of the ending. It almost disrupts the balance for an excellent, yet cautionary, political thriller. Still it's a great film.
***1/2 out of **** - A great update to a classic.