The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Review Date: August 07, 2004
Director: Jonathan Demme
Writer: Daniel Pyne, Dean Georgaris
Producers: Scott Rudin, Tina Sinatra
Denzel Washington as Ben
Liev Shreiber as Raymond
Meryl Streep as Eleanor
It's 1991 and an American military division fighting in Desert Storm is ambushed. Flash-forward to the present day and the man who supposedly saved the unit that day, Raymond Shaw, is the vice-presidential candidate of the Unites States. That is, until another man from that same unit, one who just happens to look an awful lot like Denzel Washington, starts having dreams about what really happened back in the day, and theorizes a conspiracy involving mind-altering and behavior-controlling chips in the brain. Everyone thinks he's nuts...but is he?
How a man like Jonathan Demme could direct such an utter piece of remade shit like THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE and follow that up with this timely, insightful, dramatic and consistently engaging remake, boggles the mind. But no matter, since this film is a great success with everything from its pacing to its palpable suspense to its top-notch acting performances and mysterious air, nabbing me by the nuts from the film's smack-dab opening to its nail-biting conclusion. Major kudos should also go out to many of the film's actors including the always-effective Denzel Washington, who doesn't play his more typical "righteous guy" here, but rather, an established military man who, slowly but surely, loses his marbles before the world. Liev Shreiber is also superb as the man caught in the middle of an apparently vast conspiracy, about which he seems to know very little. This was a very difficult part for him, with a battery of emotions to be tackled, but Schreiber comes through...gangbusters. But if I was forced to slap some money down on the greatest performance in the film, I'd have to choose the woman who could, at this point, officially change her middle name to "Oscar", seeing as she does nothing but tack Academy Award performances to her filmography: the brilliant Meryl Streep. Her character in this film has gotta have the biggest balls that I've ever seen on a woman politician (or man, for that matter). Other than Hilary Clinton, of course. One of her stares alone could shrink my nutsack to the size of an acorn. Now that's power!
One of the film's earliest scenes features a close-up view of the woman in action, among a room full of political power-players, and she blows them all out of the water...and yes, I mean as both the actors and the characters! But enough about her. Jeffrey Wright, the man who played the unforgettable street thug character in the remake of SHAFT, also offers yet another small, but memorable, performance as one of the crew from Washington's Desert Storm Unit. He has only one big scene, but he lets it all hang out. Give this dude some bigger parts already! Other than the great performances, the film also offered an angle that I usually can't get enough of in movies and that's the ability to place the audience in the same disheveled mental state as its lead character, with plenty of flashbacks, dreams, nightmares, clues, conjectures and conspiracies leading us through the same journey as Washington's perplexed vet character. I'm also a huge fan of conspiracy movies in general, especially those that can pull it off so successfully, and the levels of deceit and high-level politics was masterfully handled here. At the end of the day, if you're a fan of suspense movies on any level, I'm pretty sure that you'll greatly appreciate this tense thriller, particularly if you consider any of its main thespian players, personal faves.
(c) 2014 Berge Garabedian