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The Manchurian Candidate

September 5, 2010

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Director: Jonathan Demme
Actors: Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Meryl Streep

Synopsis: Ex-marine (Denzel Washington) becomes disturbed by his fellow war hero (Liev Schreiber) and his attempts to ascend to the White House….

Review: This is a moderate political thriller, that offers little on the ‘political’ angle and even less in its remit to ‘thrill’. The clear problem the movie had was in updating the original source material and earlier film’s very specific detail and tone from Fifties Cold War paranoia to the contemporary era of corporate power and global terrorism. The insinuation this film makes – that the Manchurian Corporation is essentially buying the Vice Presidency – is neither wholly original nor particularly shocking a proposition, and even the elaborately devious way they go about this coup is too leadenly conveyed.

The film’s primary error though is in allowing Marco’s dream (which is essentially a vision of the conspiratorial plot) to air in full too near the beginning of the drama, thereby dissipating a lot of the suspense and mystery over what actually happened in Kuwait and who the enemies are. I have read justifications of this early plot revelation where it is argued that because of the original film, viewers will already be aware of the central narrative conceit, so it has to place the emphasis and intrigue elsewhere. My riposte to that is two-fold: first, it overestimates the amount of people who will have actually seen the original, and second, it betrays the filmmakers’ role as storytellers. Why bother adapting a classic film, if they won’t even adhere to one of its fundamental dramatic threads? The only real saving grace of the film is its excellent casting and performances, particularly from Liev Schreiber as the puppet Vice President candidate, who makes his character’s psyche and growing unease, genuinely believable. (June 2006)

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