The Manchurian Candidate (15)

Written by Richard Condon, Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris
Directed by Jonathan Demme
On general release from 19th November 2004

Reviewed by Adam Ford

Another Hollywood remake, another chorus of people protesting that 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. But if ever there was a remake worth an update, it is The Manchurian Candidate. The Cold War is over, and ‘Terrorism’ has replaced Communism as the United States’ bogeyman of choice, wielded to ‘justify’ the invasion of non-threatening countries. Watching the new version, I found another common saying came to mind: 'the more things change, the more they stay the same'.

Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) is a decorated 'hero' from the first Gulf War, who is suddenly nominated as a Vice Presidential candidate after his senator mother Eleanor (Meryl Streep) bullies party delegates into line. Raymond’s ‘freedom-fighting’ credentials impress a paranoid American public, but some of his co-soldiers have been having some strange dreams, which don’t quite fit with the official version of events.

It's a great premise, and there are some extraordinary performances here. Schreiber is excellent as the candidate, playing him with more than a touch of Norman Bates. Denzel Washington is compelling as the candidate's wartime captain, and there are some gripping scenes in which he grapples with his fractured memories. Meryl Streep wipes the floor with both of them, every inch the eerily devious and scheming matriarch.

Unfortunately, the script is largely unmemorable, and if you have seen the original there will be no suspenseful edge-of-your-seat tension. The sheer scale of the conspiracy may also seem far-fetched to some, and indeed why would corporations use mind control techniques on politicians when it's much easier to buy them off with donations and slush funds? But in this age of Enron, Halliburton and the Carlyle Group, who can doubt that politicians dance on the strings of the big business masters? Any similarity to actual events or persons is purely deliberate.