The Manchurian Candidate


Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Written by:Daniel Pyne, Dean Georgaris
Starring: Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Live Schreiber, Jeffrey Wright, Kimberly Elise, Jon Voight
Released: October 28, 2004
Grade: A-

Richard Condon’s novel was first adapted to a cinematic form in 1962.  Directed by the late John Frankenheimer, The Manchurian Candidate starred Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh and Angela Lansbury.  The film was a success and has aged well over time.  In 1998, the American Film Institute ranked the film 67th in a list of the greatest films of all time.  Even the public on the Internet Movie Database have it ranked in the top 100.

It’s unlikely that any remake will eclipse its predecessor, so why do filmmakers persist in reviving such classic films?  Surely it must boil down to the heart of any film – its story.  The tale of The Manchurian Candidate is as relevant today as it was 40 years ago, perhaps even more so!  Now, we find it told once again on the big screen and a new audience can leave the theatre thinking and wondering…

It’s been 13 years since Captain Ben Marco (Washington) fought in Operation Desert Storm.  In a night-time gun battle with Iraqi soldiers, Ben was knocked unconscious and the troop was saved by the heroic actions of soldier Raymond Shaw (Schreiber), the son of a leading business tycoon.  Since the events of 1991, Ben has been plagued by a reoccurring dream – one in which he is being brainwashed by staff at an Iraqi medical facility.  Psychiatrists have diagnosed him with a stress disorder but in the back of his mind, Ben’s always believed there’s a reason behind these hallucinations.

Two separate events reignite Ben’s interest in his beliefs.  Speaking at a public engagement, he runs into a soldier who served under him that fateful night in Iraq, Al Melvin (Wright).  In reminiscing, Al speaks of having the same dreams and this unexpected information reignites Ben’s search for the truth.  Not long after, Ben stumbles across vision of Raymond Shaw on television.  Thanks to the support of his political mother, Eleanor Shaw (Streep), the war hero Shaw has secured the Democratic ticket to run for Vice President in the upcoming U.S. elections.  Ben heads to New York to congratulate Raymond but also wants to ask of his own recollection of the events in Iraq…

It may not be the most believable story but the top-notch cast and crew make me want to believe in it.  Academy Award winning director Jonathan Demme (Silence Of The Lambs) has created a sly thriller which keeps you on your toes.  Without revealing too much, this look at corruption in politics of particular interest when you consider the controversy that has engulfed current U.S. President, George W. Bush.  It may not be as controversial as a Bulworth or a Wag The Dog but there’s still food for thought.