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A Chilling Re-telling of a Classic for our Time That Ultimately Misses the Mark

  • Oct 29, 2004
Rating:
-1
Pros: Acting, acting, actingÂ…

Cons: Disjoined incomplete script; plot holes abound.

The Bottom Line: Watching The Manchurian Candidate was like watching a group of unrelated short stories at a film festival; there just wasnÂ’t a common thread thick enough to tie them all together.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.

Famed director John Frankenheimer's opened the original (now classic) "The Manchurian Candidate" during the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The original so perfectly captured the paranoia and political uncertainty of its day that any attempt to remake it would be fool hardly and almost certain to fail. And despite an impressive cast, 42 year later that is just what director Jonathan Demme (Philadelphia, The Silence of the Lambs, Beloved) and screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris have done—presented us with an update that falls short of the mark.

Still based loosely on Richard Condon's novel Demme's Manchurian Candidate is not a faithful remake of the original; it is rather a re-telling of the classic story. While both movie’s use the basic elements of the novel, many of the most memorable scenes from the 1962 version of Manchurian Candidate are noticeably absent from this updated version, allowing Demme's work to stand un-comfortably on its own. But in eliminating so much of what tied the original together and made the film coherent and believably chilling, Demme shortchanged us, and left us with a film that is choppy, and disconnected on many levels.

The Plot-Line

Demme and company has managed to produce a appalling snapshot of how the world has changed in those intervening 42 years, but failed to tie the varied threads of the story together to present a convincing canvas upon which to paint their portrait of a America gone mad. In 1962, the Manchurian’s threatening America's safety were the Communists Chinese and Soviet Union, but in the new "Candidate" the danger comes from within, in the guise of a multinational corporation named Manchurian Global. This is a company that bank-rolls politicians who preach the principles of compassionate conservatism and the politics of patriotism as they eviscerate the Bill of Rights and use fear to control the public. Sound familiar?

Manchurian Global, the corporation, is an equity fund with substantial investments around the world and iron-clad ties to Capitol Hill. The company (can you say Halliburton?) is into everything, including a proposed private Army to help the Pentagon supplement an over-stretched U.S. Armed Forces that is busy around the world preemptively striking sovereign countries seemingly at will; a true global war on terrorism. But there is no draft; there is no sacrifice by the American people other then side-stepping National Guard soldiers on the streets on their way to Starbucks.

As the movie opens Manchurian Global has just secured what's described as "a half-billion dollar, no-bid contract" to provide plasma and medical supplies to the military, even though it's now being accused of overpricing. Again, sound familiar?

Manchurian Global, is also bank-rolling the campaigns of one U.S. Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw portrayed by a very wicked Meryl Streep (The Deer Hunter, Silkwood, Out of Africa, Bridges of Madison County) and her son, U.S. Congressman Raymond Shaw portrayed by Liev Schreiber (Ransom, Twilight, Scream 3). Shaw is a decorated Persian Gulf War hero who on the eve of his Party’s nominating convention is being push by his mother to accept the vice presidential slot. She is also working behind the scenes to ensure Shaw’s name is thrown into the nomination arena despite his relative obscurity.

Enter no-doze popping Denzel Washington (Glory, The Pelican Briefs, Courage Under Fire, Man on Fire) as U.S. Army Captain Ben Marco who is suffering from frightening flashbacks set during the first Gulf War. Marco was the commander of a platoon that included one Sgt. Raymond Shaw and fellow soldiers who were allegedly attacked on Kuwait's “Highway of Death.'' What happened to the men is unclear in Marco’s mind but, it appears as though Sgt. Shaw, who was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor, single-handedly defeated their attackers and led the company to safety. However, we and Marco discover that the men were really taken to a covert facility, implanted with mind control devices, brainwashed and forced—for reasons that make little sense—to do horrible things to one another by a renegade Russian scientist employed by Manchurian Global.

In the present, Marco lives alone on a strange diet of Ramen noodles and the Army has him touring the country making speeches about Shaw’s heroism in combat. When Marco encounters a fellow former soldier from his unit, one Al Melvin, portrayed by Jeffrey Wright (Ali, Angels in America, Sin’s Kitchen) his flashbacks intensify, and he finally seeks help from a man he helped free from the former Yugoslavia. Along the way he is befriended by Rosie portrayed by Kimberly Elise (Set it Off, Beloved, John Q.) on a trip to New York City, who turns out to be an FBI agent.

Impressions

Both my wife and I agree, that this vision of The Manchurian Candidate left us feeling less then fulfilled. While Demme’s vision of a post-9/11 American is certain plausible given the evens sine then, the story lacked the glue to hold it together; there were too many unanswered questions, too many inconsistencies and fragmented scenes to piece together a believable movie.

For instance how do you capture an entire platoon of battle-hardened Army soldiers? And how was Marco able to stay in the Army all those intervening years with just the rank of Captain? Why and how was Al Melvin killed off, and what is the motivation behind Manchurian Global’s power grab? Is it to prolong the War on Terror, to advance their cause of a private Army financed by the U.S. public; is it greed, or a lust for power that motivate these men, or a combination of both? And what drives Eleanor Prentiss other then a lust for power. Is she a true patriot, or truly an evil shrew? We never really learn then answer to any of these questions; they are left tangling, taunting the viewer like an abstract painting begging for your own individual interpretation.

For us The Manchurian Candidate never really quite gelled into an enjoyable movie, or one that shocks the sensibilities enough to recommend it despite its flaws; it was just too disjointed. And while the principles certainly turned in stellar performances; Denzel was convincing as a man on the edge of sanity, and Streep never fails to captivate, the over all effect was less then intriguing. Watching The Manchurian Candidate was like watching a group of unrelated short stories at a film festival; there just wasn’t a common thread thick enough to tie them all together.


Recommended:
No

Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age

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More The Manchurian Candidate reviews
Quick Tip by . June 11, 2010
Awesome book and history, Good read.
review by . November 07, 2009
Not as good as the orginal, but a great remake none the less
As an avid lover of the original 1962 version of The Manchurian Candidate starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury I was very, very hesitant to see this But I'm proud to say I was proven wrong, this remake and Adaption of the popular cold war novel is nothing short of breath taking and brilliant.            This 2004 reboot staring Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Meryl Streep and Jon Voight is much more chilling and paranoiac than the …
review by . April 29, 2009
Note: Spoilers ahead.     This movie was one that required your utmost attention throughout and still you missed things. The DVD version is much better than the theater run because you can rewind and re-watch for things you missed. This makes it worth owning.     A group of soldiers are brainwashed to think that one of them was a war hero, when in fact nobody was in combat. The "war hero" was being pushed by his ex-senator mother (played brilliantly by Meryl …
review by . November 14, 2008
The Manchurian Candidate
If you like movies about the big, bad corporate evil stalking innocent civilians and making unholy alliances to further their already outlandish power and profit, then you are going to love The Manchurian Candidate.     Ben Marco (the excellent Denzel Washington) was a Captain in a Gulf War incident, where his squad was attacked by the enemy and suffered two casualties. The movie begins with him speaking to a troop of scouts about his Sergeant, Raymond Shaw (played expertly by …
review by . April 02, 2007
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While being accompanied by a member of the press during the Persian Gulf War, an army unit is ambushed. The men of the unit don't remember much of what happened after the attack but they all remember that they were saved because of the actions of Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber). After the conflict, Shaw was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor by his commanding officer, Capt. Ben Marco (Denzel Washington). Shaw won the award and the recognition he received allowed him to successfully …
review by . October 02, 2005
On routine recon during Operation Desert Storm, Capt. Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) and his team, including Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) mysteriously disappear for three days, but later Sgt. Shaw is awarded the Medal of Honor for saving the men, except for two unavoidable fatalities. Years later, Shaw is positioned to run for Vice-President of the United States, if his conniving mother, Senator Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep) has anything to say about it.    Ben Marco is …
review by . June 27, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
Note: Spoilers ahead.    This movie was one that required your utmost attention throughout and still you missed things. The DVD version is much better than the theater run because you can rewind and re-watch for things you missed. This makes it worth owning.    A group of soldiers are brainwashed to think that one of them was a war hero, when in fact nobody was in combat. The "war hero" was being pushed by his ex-senator mother (played brilliantly by Meryl …
review by . December 17, 2004
If only there would be more movies like this. A great script, wonderful actors, superbly directed and filmed. You got all the thrills of a good action movie but on top of that there is this heart-stopping story which is so close to the truth that you won't be able to forget it. You shouldn't, so you will be prepared when the time comes.
About the reviewer
Vincent Martin ()
Ranked #78
I am an IT Professional and have worked in the industry for over 20 years. I may be a computer geek, but I also like reading, writing, cooking, music, current events and regretfully, politics.
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About this movie

Wiki

Remake of the 1962 film.

Starring Denzel Washington, Jeffrey Wright, Pablo Scchreiber, Anthony Mackie
Directed by Jonathon Demme
Writer:  George Axelrod, Richard Condon
2004

Product Description
Serving together in the Persian Gulf War, Captain Bennett Marco and Sgt. Raymond Shaw were part of a platoon of soldiers kidnapped and brainwashed. Ten years later, Shaw gears up for his vice presidential campaign while Marco eventually remembers being kidnapped and discovers Shaw's powerful mother played a big part in that scheme. Determined to reveal the truth behind everything, Marco must first convince Shaw that the brainwashing really happened.
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