Friday, August 12, 2005

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

The very things elevates one film into a classic can sink another into oblivion. 1962 version of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE became timeless by being a product of its time. 2004 remake, directed by Jonathan Demme, is going to sink into oblivion by being a product of its time.

The script by Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris adapted original Cold War plot of Richard Condon's novel into the modern setting. The film begins in 1991, during first Gulf War, when a US Army patrol commanded by Captain Bennett Marco (played by Denzel Washington) gets ambushed by Iraqis. In a confusing battle Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw (played by Liev Schrieber) heroically rescues his comrades from certain death and later receives Medal of Honour that would ultimately launch his political career. Years later Major Marco is troubled by nightmares that suggest that something quite different happen, and he begins to doubt his own memories when another survivors confront him with the tales of identical nightmare. In the meantime, Eleanor Shaw (played by Meryl Streep), Shaw's overambitious mother and powerful US senator, manipulates Democratic Party into choosing her son for vice-presidential candidate. While the campaign intensifies, Marco conducts his own investigation and discovers that he, Shaw and every other unit member was brainwashed by scientists employed by Manchurian Global, powerful multinational corporation.

The original version of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE became popular film by exploiting Cold War paranoia of American public. New version tries to do the same with War on Terror, but with less coherence and less success. Instead of global terrorists, the ultimate villains in this film are multinational corporations who use terrorism to get rich and powerful at the expense of American public and democratic institutions. This isn't surprising, since those corporations are often viewed as major sponsors and ultimate masters of Republican Party. While not mentioning his name, the film uses every opportunity to attack George W. Bush and his policies. This isn't surprising because the release of film occurred during 2004 presidential campaign. By presenting dystopic vision of USA as paranoid, semi-totalitarian country few steps away from total corporate control, makers of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE obviously tried to convince voters to remove Bush from the White House.

Unfortunately, the attempt to make new THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE politically relevant ruined the film. The holes of the original plot look like unbridgeable chasms in the new version. Script doesn't explain why would multinational businessmen would bother with expensive, long, risky and ultimately impractical mind control procedures when politicians could be kept on a leash through more traditional, simpler and safer methods like ordinary corruption. Many scenes that looked shocking in the original look ridiculous in new version, while the ending is mother of all disappointments.

Not all scenes in the film are bad. Some of the dialogues in the film are intriguing and the acting is good, especially in the case of Liev Schrieber who is almost better than Laurence Harvey in the original version. Denzel Washington, on the other hand, isn't that effective, while Meryl Streep with all her talent simply couldn't match the intensity of Angela Lansbury in 1962 version. Even without unavoidable comparisons with the original, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is a disappointment. It is also one of the worst remakes to come from Hollywood in recent years. And, considering average quality of Hollywood remakes in recent years, this tells a lot why THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE failed in 2004, together with the cause it had supported.

RATING: 3/10 (+)


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