Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Premise: A remake of the 1962 film. Ben Marco (Denzel Washington), a Gulf War veteran, has chronic nightmares that he and the men under his command were brainwashed by a corporation, including one man who is now running for vice-president (Liev Schreiber).
What Works: The acting here is great. Washington creates the conspiracy for the audience and his performance brings out the paranoia of the situation in a very well structured way. Liev Schreiber is able to make the audience feel a great deal of empathy for his character and while Washington’s role is more pronounced, it is Schreiber who really punctuates the human tragedy of the situation. Meryl Streep is wonderful as Schreiber’s mother, and theirs is one of the creepiest, most manipulative, and Freudian mother-son relationships ever seen on film. The story of this remake has been made to fit contemporary politics and anxieties and this version of The Manchurian Candidate has all of the potency of a Michael Moore film. It very effectively preys on the anxieties and fears of contemporary America.
What Doesn’t: Some things are told to us a little too deliberately or revealed a little too fast. The Manchurian Candidate also reflects the tendency of contemporary films to wrap things up, unlike a lot of the political films of the 1960s and 70s that left things open. This can feel a bit too tidy and undermines the uneasiness that preceded the conclusion.
Bottom Line: This is a film of the times and a very subversive picture, in some ways even more so than Fahrenheit 9/11. The Manchurian Candidate could very easily see itself making quite a few of this year’s top ten lists.
Episode: #12 (August 1, 2004)