Manchurian Candidate

Movie Review by Neils Hesse

Starring: Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, Kimberly Elise, Jon Voight
Director: Jonathan Demme

I know what you are thinking, yet another lackluster Hollywood remake of a classic but I ask you to wait and take a closer look at the current environment in the USA to which this story pertains. Now considering that this film is based more on the original book by Richard Condon than the classic 1962 film was, the average thrill seeking film fan and also the die hard conspiracy theory devotee ought to be salivating at the idea of a remake at this particular point in time.

We are introduced to the players in this story as they are about to embark on a military operation that is sabotaged seemingly leaving one soldier to heroically rescue the entire platoon. Fast forward to the current time and we now join Major Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) as he addresses a group of scouts narrating a tale of how his heroic Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) saved him and a whole platoon of soldiers from certain death during the Gulf war. Major Marco’s narration is so precise that it seems almost as though he has memorised each word he is uttering about the operation. As Major Marco finishes his speech and proceeds to walk out a strange, dirty looking man approaches him and it takes a second look by the Major to realise that the strange looking man is in fact Al Melvin (Jeffrey Wright) a former member of his platoon in the war. Al desperately shows Ben drawings that he has made of dreams that he has been having every night ever since the incident in the war, hoping that Ben will acknowledge them by responding that he too has been having similar dreams. Ben refuses to acknowledge them and instead responds by offering Al some money to which Al refuses and angrily walks away. As Ben gets home he sits down to eat his usual meal of noodles, in another town Senator Raymond Shaw is also coincidentally sitting down to eat his noodles with his mother Senator Ellie Prentiss Shaw (Meryll Streep) hovering around him. As Ben is eating he hears an announcement on the TV that states that Raymond Shaw has been nominated to stand for Vice President. Staring at the TV Ben begins to see images of that tragic night during the war that are similar to the drawings that he saw earlier in the day with Al Melvin.

Ben Attends a political event as an escort for two generals and he happens to bump into Raymond but his attempts to talk to him prove unfruitful so approaches his commanding officers with his suspicions that are based on his dreams. They promptly tell him to stay away from Raymond and continue taking his medication. Ben’s suspicions are given even more depth when he discovers a small device implanted in his back but in his shock he loses it and so he proceeds to confront Raymond and in his desperation he bites his back to see whether he has the same device and indeed he does. Ben takes the device to an old colleague of his for analysing in his lab but he ends up dead before he can explain to Ben what it does. With no one else to turn to Ben goes to see the man who was the original choice for Vice President Thomas Jordan (Jon Voight) and share what he knows or thinks he knows with the hope that maybe then the authorities would investigate. Thomas immediately approaches Senator Ellie, Raymond’s mother with all that he has learned but then soon after, he along with his daughter end up dead. As everything starts to unravel Ben begins to suspect that Rosie (Kimberley Elise) a woman who took pity on him by letting him stay at her home in the city is actually somehow involved in the whole affair. It turns out that she is actually FBI and is investigating the very suspicions that Ben is desperately trying to prove. Ben decides to once again try to convince Raymond of the sinister dreams that he has been having and just as it seems that he might be able to do so the situation takes a shocking turn that he would never have dreamed could be possible.

Jonathan Demme has created a masterpiece that is an all round entertaining movie but also a very good take on politics and the corrupting effect of too much power. There’s excellent character development, good story build up and immaculate execution through superb performances. With great shots especially in the dream sequences where we see the dreams of Ben and Raymond Shaw, this is undoubtedly a solid adult thriller.

Denzel Washington headlines with a fantastic performance playing a confused yet driven man whose mind is constantly pulling him in two different directions but ultimately discovers that there was something much more sinister than he could have imagined. Meryll Streep revels in her role as a twisted patriot and loving, semi-incestuous mother who will stop at nothing to have her vision realized and Liev Schreiber delivers a tour de force as Raymond Shaw the ultimate conflicted character/ reluctant hero, a man who never wanted to be in the limelight but is constantly thrust into it by his over achieving mother. His character is forced into a position that requires him to finally make a stand for what is right and not what will make his mother happy.

Thrills, solid performances, a sufficiently evocative soundtrack and all round great cinematography should leave this film in your thoughts for a long time after you leave the cinema and indeed go to the cinema to see this you will not be disappointed.

5 out of 6 stars