'The Manchurian Candidate'


Denzel Washington and Liev Schreiber (Paramount)
Paramount has been trying to minimize its movie-making risk by remaking older films. To that end, we've had 21-century versions of "The Italian Job" and "The Stepford Wives," and we're about to get "The Longest Yard."

Another Paramount remake opens nationwide today—"The Manchurian Candidate"—and this one looks to be a winner.

 

Director Jonathan Demme, who in 2002 took "Charade" and horribly remade it into "The Truth About Charlie," has redeemed himself by assembling Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber and more fine actors to tell this frightening tale of politics under the thumbs of business and technology.

 

Washington takes the role played by Frank Sinatra in the original—Capt. Ben Marco. The film opens with Marco leading his lost squadron through the Kuwaiti desert in 1991. They're ambushed, and what transpires—or doesn't, depending on whose memory and dreams we're tapping—sets everything else in motion.

 

We flash-forward to the present, where Marco, still in the army, is dealing with Gulf War Syndrome or perhaps post-traumatic stress disorder. A visit from one of his former soldiers, who says he's been disturbed by dreams about the ambush, shakes Marco up.

 

So does the rising political star of Raymond Shaw (Schreiber), who was with Marco during the ambush and later credited with saving the squad. The Medal of Honor Shaw received after the incident helped set his political trajectory, engineered by his domineering mother, Sen. Eleanor Prentiss Shaw (Streep).

 

Enter Manchurian Global, a corporate giant in the world of technology—and one that frequently seeks and secures government and military contracts. As one character puts it, Manchurian is "a geopolitical extension of policy."

 

Marco, soon disturbed by his own dreams about what happened in the Kuwaiti desert, gets more than he bargains for as he seeks to uncover the truth. His search is a tangled and destructive web—and one best left for the viewer to experience in all of its creepy manifestations.

 

"The Manchurian Candidate" has a dollop of science-fiction, and it is indeed creepy. Some of its sequences are meant to disturb audiences, just as the characters themselves are being disturbed.

 

Low musical strains from Rachel Portman, terrific lensing by cinematographer Tak Fujimoto, and dead-on performances from all of the principals combine to establish an incredibly relevant and moody political thriller.

 

Washington and Streep are always good, but Liev Schreiber, who has been doing solid work for years, steals the show. Perhaps this film will elevate him to the A-list of Hollywood actors, where he firmly deserves a place.

 

"The Manchurian Candidate" keeps you off-balance, not knowing who to trust or how it will all end—sure signs of a good movie.

 

It also takes what should really upset us and doesn't—big business in bed with government, for example—and serves it back to us with the appropriate fright factor.

 

That's a movie worth even a remake.

 

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

 

MPAA Rating: R for violence and some language. Reviewer's Note: Some dream sequences feature disturbing imagery and violence.

 

Director: Jonathan Demme

 

Writers: Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris

 

Cast: Ben Marco: Denzel Washington; Raymond Shaw: Liev Schreiber; Eleanor Prentiss Shaw: Meryl Streep; Thomas Jordan: Jon Voight; Rosie: Kimberly Elise; Al Melvin: Jeffrey Wright.

 

The movie's official Web site is here.

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