The Manchurian Candidate

Jonathan Demme's spectacular recovery from THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE (2002), a disastrous deconstruction of CHARADE (1963), is a smart, timely remake of John Frankenheimer's 1962 thriller. Frankenheimer's CANDIDATE is a very nearly perfect adaptation of Richard Condon's 1959 novel, but Demme's retooling is a fine and thought-provoking film in its own right....read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Jonathan Demme's spectacular recovery from THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE (2002), a disastrous deconstruction of CHARADE (1963), is a smart, timely remake of John Frankenheimer's 1962 thriller. Frankenheimer's CANDIDATE is a very nearly perfect adaptation of Richard Condon's 1959 novel, but Demme's retooling is a fine and thought-provoking film in its own right. Kuwait, 1991: Capt. Bennett Marco (Denzel Washington), Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) and their platoon are ambushed and are MIA for three days. All but two of the men later make their way back to safety and Shaw is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on the battlefield. In the present day, Marco, now a major, is tormented by grotesque nightmares awash in blood and bizarre tangles of scary machinery, while Shaw, the wealthy son of powerful and ambitious Sen. Eleanor Prentiss Shaw (Meryl Streep) — herself the daughter of a brilliant businessman and widow of a principled, charismatic politician whose seat she assumed and then made her own — has forged a brilliant post-military career. Two events force Marco's longtime obsession with Shaw to new heights. He has an unsettling run-in with a seriously disturbed member of their old platoon (Jeffrey Wright), and presidential candidate Robert Arthur (Tom Stechschulte) nominates Congressman Shaw as his vice presidential running mate in place of presumptive candidate Sen. Thomas Jordan (Jon Voight). Convinced that he and Shaw underwent some experience in Kuwait not reflected in the official story — which includes Marco's conscious memories but not his unruly dreams — the increasingly jittery Marco makes repeated attempts to speak with Shaw, attempts that look alarmingly like stalking and undermine what little credibility he has left. If ever a story embodied the grimly joking aphorism that paranoia doesn't mean no one's out to get you, it's this one. Major Marco's conspiracy theories, whose fluid borders absorb everything from mind-altering implants to corporate manipulation of politics by assassination, are exactly the kind of intricate web of unlikely connections and far-fetched conjecture that schizophrenics weave from the tatters of their shredded psyches. The punch line is that he's absolutely right about everything except his own place in the scheme. Demme and screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris preserve the essence of Condon's novel while doing some canny updating, conflating two characters into Streep's monstrous mother figure and, more importantly, replacing the Cold War-era Communist cabal that inspired the title with a multinational corporation called Manchurian Global. The result suggests the icy PARALLAX VIEW (1974) by way of JACOB'S LADDER (1990) and, tellingly, in a story driven by questions of loyalty and allegiance, no candidate is identified by party. It's a bipartisan nightmare from which no one escapes unscathed.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Jonathan Demme's spectacular recovery from THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE (2002), a disastrous deconstruction of CHARADE (1963), is a smart, timely remake of John Frankenheimer's 1962 thriller. Frankenheimer's CANDIDATE is a very nearly perfect adaptation of Rich… (more)

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