6 September 2004 | jon.h.ochiai
I have not seen the original John Frankenheimer's "The Manchurian Candidate", which is considered one of the best political thrillers ever made. So it was curious that Jonathan Demme (a great director whose previous work included "The Silence of the Lambs") chose to remake the "The Manchurian Candidate". Still basing the story on the novel by Richard Condon, and the 1962 screenplay by George Axelrod, screen writers Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris have updated the Cold War political thriller to the global nuclear terrorism threat on our homeland, and introducing the clandestine presence of a ubiquitous corporation like Manchurian Global. Demme along with reinventing a contemporary storyline, assembled a powerful cast, Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, and Liev Schreiber. Streep as Senator Eleanor Shaw, the mother of Vice Presidential candidate, Raymond Shaw (Schreiber), is absolutely powerful and compelling. She is playing against type-- her Eleanor Shaw is a Machiavellian Lady MacBeth. She is ruthless and smart. Streep's performance is awesome.
During the Gulf War Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Schreiber) saved his fellow soldiers when his CO, Maj. Ben Marco (Washington) is knocked unconscious. Shaw receives the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery. Back to the present day, Eleanor Shaw (Streep) imposes her sheer will and brokers the Vice Presidential slot for her son, the War Hero, on her Party's ticket. Eleanor has political ties with the very powerful Manchurian Global corporation. Meanwhile, Maj. Marco is plagued by incoherent memories of what happened in Iraq. Were his memories actually manufactured? His investigation seems to point to brainwashing and a conspiracy. And what is the ultimate goal?
Demme is a good storyteller. He keeps the story taut and paced. He also enlists effective performances from his talented cast. Denzel Washington is good as Marco. He is also playing somewhat against type. His Major Marco is a broken man regaining some of his honor, and he plays it very close to the vest. Marco is a not a charismatic character, but Washington imposes his own force on the character. Schreiber is amazing as Raymond Shaw. Outwardly, he might have played a puppet in an elaborate power play; however, he gives Shaw a strength of character that is riveting with internal conflict. Meryl Streep really steals the movie as Eleanor Shaw. Her performance is so commanding. Even in her ruthlessness and singularity, she can not be dismissed as plain evil, because ultimately her intentions are noble. That conflict embodied in her character makes "The Manchurian Candidate" worth watching.