a critiQal film review The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

Plot: Cpt Ben Marco (Washington) is haunted by dreams of a particular night in Kuwait in 1991. His dreams involve all the men he was commanding, but in particular one Raymond Shaw (Schreiber), who just happened to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on that particular night...and is now running for Vice President of the United States. Now Marco must search for answers before time runs out for him...and for the nation.

Reviewed
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  • ...with un-inspiring performances by it's cast, a cliched plot, and easily guessed surprises, this remake doesn't bring anything interesting to the table.

Denzel Washington has been on a role lately. He seems to have kicked off his newest string of successes with an Oscar-noticed role in The Hurricane a few years ago, and followed that up with back-to-back good films Out of Time (2003) and Man on Fire (2004). Now, he delves into a remake done by acclaimed director Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs (1991)) with The Manchurian Candidate. Will this film continue his string of successes, or will he again falter and fade?

Denzel doesn’t seem to do as good of a job in this film as he has done recently in other films. Both Man on Fire (2004) and Out of Time (2003) brought out qualities in Denzel that he doesn’t usually show the audience. Maybe the characters were a bit more complex than what he was used to…who knows? Whatever the case, he really seemed to dig down deep and show that, hidden slightly under the surface lives a much better actor then he likes to show.

Unfortunately, The Manchurian Candidate wasn’t able to break through this outer layer, so the viewer is left with the okay actor we know from his past lesser quality films.

The other actors seem to have followed along with Denzel’s lead. Liev does a decent job of being the robot-like Raymond Shaw, but doesn’t really let the viewer get to know him. It’s not really his fault, since the character is supposed to be almost emotionless for most of the film.

Meryl Streep also falls a bit short, seemingly unable to really get a hold on her character. A real surprise was Denzel’s old John Q co-star, Kimberly Elise. She didn’t seem to get much to work with, but did a great job with what she did have. Ted Levine and Jon Voight both don’t get enough screen time to really do anything at all to contribute to the movie either.

The plot of this new Manchurian Candidate seemed intriguing enough when the original film came out, but seems a little cliched by this point. Maybe it was new back in 1962 when the original was in theaters, but it’s been done since, and has lost it’s originality.

A possibly corrupt government official loses a bit of it’s flair after the scandals with Nixon, J Edgar Hoover, Clinton and even our current prez, George W Bush.

There are a couple of twists and turns, but they are broadcast so plainly before they happen the average viewer will easily see them coming. It could have been done much better, but it looks like Jonathan Demme wasn’t the director for the job.

With un-inspiring performances by it’s cast, a cliched plot, and easily guessed surprises, this new The Manchurian Candidate is not really worth the time it takes to watch it. It’s not horrible, but it isn’t anything to get excited about either. Maybe with a different director combined with better performances by it’s actors, this remake could have been a must-see.

However, the way it turned out, this Candidate isn’t going to get my vote.

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