|The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Starring: Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schrieber, Jon Voight
Director: Jonathan Demme
When it comes to remaking classics, director Jonathan Demme hasn’t had much luck, an indisputable assertion following his shameful tarnishing of the Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn masterpiece, “Charade.” While his re-imagining of John Frankenheimer’s 1962 political thriller, “The Manchurian Candidate,” doesn’t exactly register as one of the better films of the year, Demme does deal out a clever, updated script that will make conspiracy theorists cry for joy. As for the rest of the audience, prepare to sink into an unnerving and predictable sand trap of teeth-grinding moments and complex obscurity that waters down an Oscar-worthy performance with its farfetched commentary on the government.
Years after serving his country in the Gulf War, Captain Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) suffers from what he believes to be post-war syndrome, but quickly discovers that the nightmares he’s been having run common in the family of soldiers that he once commanded overseas. Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) was one of those men, awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for saving his troop when they were ambushed by a group of rebel Iraqis. Or so that’s how everyone remembers it. Now Shaw is a New York congressman who’s just been nominated vice president by his party for the upcoming election with the sinister help of his mother, Senator Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep picking up where Angela Lansbury left off). But Marco uncovers a conspiracy that connects the government and the Manchurian Global corporation to a top-secret science project that knows the real truth behind the events of Iraq.
The 21st-century update of the film is flooded with undeniable parallels to the political firefight that wages on news shows 24/7, but the mad science that is proposed in the film is ridiculous. Why would we need to brainwash politicians when the long-standing puppet-on-a-string trick still works so well? Denzel Washington takes a back seat in his role as the hypnotized Marco and delivers one of his least impressive performances to date. Schreiber is delightful as a modern-day Norman Bates, but it’s Meryl Streep who steals the show as the psychotic, power-hungry mother whose similarities to Hilary Rodham Clinton are tastefully disturbing.
The film starts out as a taut, psychological thriller with a keen analysis of today’s politics, but it eventually begins to slack off into third-rate originality. “The Manchurian Candidate” has enough life to limp its way to completion, but if you’re looking for a genuine interpretation on the Gulf War, check out “Three Kings.”