Producers: Scott Rudin, Tina Sinatra, Ilona
Written by: Daniel Pyne & Dean Georgaris;
from the novel by Richard Condon
Cast: Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev
Schreiber, Kimberly Elise, Jon Voight, Jeffrey Wright, Simon
McBurney, Vera Farmiga
Not since Gus Van Sant came up with a proposal
for a shot-by-shot remake of Psycho has anyone come forth
with a more audacious idea for a superfluous remake. John
Frankenheimer’s original Manchurian Candidate
was so much of its time that it’s almost impossible to imagine
the story transposed to any other setting, or why anyone would even
want to attempt such a thing.
This new Candidate trades Korea for the Persian Gulf War
(ahem, the first one). There a young, unpopular soldier named Raymond
Shaw (Schreiber) rescues his fellow soldiers from
an ambush. Cut ahead and Raymond, the decorated war hero, is now
a congressman, and being pushed for the VP position by his domineering
mother (Streep). Raymond’s old army captain
watches this with increasing unease as he’s haunted by nightmares
of Iraq. Soon he learns that his dreams are not unique, that his
former comrades share similar nightmares, which sets him off in
pursuit of the always elusive truth.
Conspicuously absent from this new film is the bold satirical comedy
of the original. Like Dr. Strangelove, The Manchurian Candidate
punctured the deeply felt tension of the Cold War with broad flashes
of humor. Who can forget the jolly Chinese communist’s symposium
on hypnotism? The deliciously well-crafted irony of the first film
is here replaced by a deeply muddled liberalism that seeps through
the holes in the plot’s logic. The film seems to want to say
something about civil liberties, but with all the techno-driven
paranoia it would be hard to see civil liberties as anything but
an illusion. You would think they could muster some sort of comparison
between the Cold War and the War on Terror, but no, not really.
The film’s just telling us to look out for giant corporations
and their mind-control devices, though it looks like they’ve
The plot for the new Manchurian isn’t a carbon
copy of the original. The plum role of Mommy Dearest (played so
well in the original by Angela Lansbury) has been
transformed from coldly calculating stage mother to a controversial
senator. For the role Meryl Streep’s been given Hillary
Clinton hair and blunt demeanor. She’s determined
to have her way and she won’t be delicate about how she does
it. Also for this new reworking, the role of Captain Marco has been
expanded. Although Washington is once again playing
the role of crusading do-gooder, his performance is nonetheless
an improvement over Frank Sinatra’s, who
was perhaps the only thing wrong with the original, Frank never
being able to play anyone other than Frank of course.
In building up Marco, the filmmakers neglect Shaw, which I believe
is a mistake. Instead of centering on the pitiful Shaw, a man turned
into a pawn of a fantastical plot, the filmmakers aim for a far
more conventional thriller, and as a straight thriller The Manchurian
Candidate just doesn’t work. The dirty dealings are too
obvious early on, so there’s hardly any suspense in how the
story unfolds. The famously tense ending of the original is replicated,
but this Candidate simply can’t duplicate the suspense
of the 1962 version.
Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.
Itís worth a full-price ticket.
Itís worth a matinee ticket.
Wait for video rental.
Check out the video from the library, if you must.
While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...