Use this and the original in a film class
Wayne A. | Belfast, Northern Ireland | 03/06/2006
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I'd held off for a bit on seeing this; the original Manchurian Candidate is an all-time favorite movie, and, well, you know...
At the end of this film I scooted over to my bookshelf and grabbed the DVD case of the original. My guess was the remake was no more than 90 minutes and the original must have been at least two and 1/2 hours in duration. Good Lord! They were both exactly 129 minutes long!
There's a profound lesson here. The first film, in that wonderful 129 managed to tell a great story, travel a lot, freak me out repeatedly, stun me with novelty (the playing cards, the whole Republican/McCarthy/Lincoln shtick, the "flower show' interrogation, the "jump in a lake", getting drunk with Shaw, and on and on) work in a great love story, work in a tragic love story, work in a pathological love story, and develop a host of intriguing characters, and thrill me with what seemed to be an unending sequence of marvelous performances. The equally lengthy remake stirred little sympathies and seldom got off the ground. As storytelling, the film spun its wheels. You'd think if you remake a movie, ignore character development, ignore any relationship development, ignore any complex and intelligent commentary on modern goings-on (it was just terrorism and corporate involvement in war handled in the most superficial way)--ignore a whale of a lot--you could bring the thing in at about 48 minutes, maybe 60 with commercials. If I watch it again (not likely) I'll have a stop-watch handy and I'll take notes. It was like some magic trick.
So what happened in that 129 minutes anyway? I'm honestly not sure--Denzel Washington sweats a lot and communicated none of the subtlety and complexity that Sinatra managed, Meryl Streep brought on the heretical thought that maybe she's overrated and maybe Angela Lansbury was underrated, I missed Janet Leigh who delivered the same lines splendidly, I missed the black humor and irony and ambiguity, and who the heck was that bad Lawrence Harvey impressionist? Motivations were lost, the WHOLE POINT that everyone hated this guy but parroted their adoration for him wasn't presented clearly, and the motivation for the entire brainwashing venture was muddled up by the script after first stating that it was all about control. What a mess. Every time the film tried to echo the original, it'd already gone so far off track that it just confused matters even worse.
My serious suggestion is that some professor (and not necessarily a film professor) have a class watch both versions, note what went right in 129 minutes in the original, and what went horribly wrong in the 129 minutes of the remake and then have the students try to explain why. My guess is the answers will be fascinating.
It's a one-star movie but I give it two because it was up against impossible-to-beat competition."
Superb Remake Of the 1960s B&W Classic!
Barron Laycock | Temple, New Hampshire United States | 07/28/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Shades of Fahrenheit 911! This superbly crafted and well acted re-make of the 1960s political thriller, "The Manchurian Candidate" bears little resemblance to the original, a taut but relatively conventional psychological drama based on the premise of the selective brainwashing of a platoon of American soldiers during the Korean War by the North Koreans. In the original, the storyline revolves around the nightmare ruminations of a military officer (played by Frank Sinatra) who comes to realize all hinges on a fellow prisoner, the scion of a wealthy, influential, and politically ambitious family becoming a sleeper assassin who will be activated to act out his part in a diabolical plot to stage a deft and ostensibly peaceful coup-d'etat of the American government.
Here Denzel Washington underplays the part of the officer to the point of perfection, yet the story-line is much more of a postmodern twist, involving corporate geopolitical ambitions for a Halliburton-like firm who tries to use the brainwashing during the Gulf War of 1991 to ensnare and brainwash the sleeper agent (played well here by Liev Schreiber, once again the scion of a wealthy, influential, and politically star-crossed family). Meryl Streep plays against type as a brash and arrogant neoconservative senator who uses her bully pulpit to spew imperialistic venom. There are many contemporary touches and twists to the script and the plot that make this a quite artful, albeit obviously fictional, philosophical diatribe on the state of current American politics seen through the eyes of Hollywood intellectuals (or is that a contradiction in terms?).
All that said, there is indeed much beyond these blatant attempts to examine the current state of the American polity to recommend the film for your entertainment. It is a forceful and mind-expanding whirlwind ride through the threats we face both within and without our borders, and it offers a number of interesting and diverting scenes of people swept up by and then caught helplessly within the crosshairs of circumstances way out of his or her control, and in that sense is a timeless statement of how much the particulars describing each of our lives depend in the unique set of historical circumstances we find ourselves enmeshed within. This is quite a rollercoaster ride, and one I highly recommend for your viewing entertainment. Enjoy!
The Manchurian Canddiate (2004)
The Tweeder | Indianapolis, Indiana | 01/01/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Director: Jonathan Demme
Cast: Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, Jeffrey Wright, Kimberly Elise, Anthony Mackie, Adam LeFevre, Ann Dowd, Simon McBurney.
Running Time: 129 minutes
Rated R for violence and some language.
"The Manchurian Candidate" is "Silence of the Lambs" director Jonathan Demme's remake attempt at the 1962 classic. In the new film, the villainous force isn't Communism, but capitalism, or more specifically, a vaguely defined corporate entity that hopes to rule the world. As such, in giving us a generic corporate villain, the film has all the gravity of a James Bond adventure. The change is revealing in that it shows the political correctness of Hollywood thinking (in not wishing to slur any ethnic group, or for that matter any specific political party), plus it shows the lack of creative thinking in Hollywood (by playing it safe and trite with the usual stereotypical band of rich, white, male Western capitalists as the baddies). Denzel Washington plays Colonel Ben Marco, who we first meet delivering a speech to a Boy Scout troop about his experiences in the first Gulf War, and how Congressman Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber, who deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor) saved his platoon from an enemy attack. Marco, we soon discover, has been having mysterious dreams that say otherwise. Dreams of torture, medical experimentation, brainwashing, and murder. He is motivated to investigate the dream when he finds out from a former platoon mate (Jeffrey Wright) that he's not alone in wondering what really happened that night. Meanwhile, Raymond Shaw has just been positioned as his party's reluctant nominee for Vice-President of the United States thanks to the machinations of his nightmarish mother (Meryl Streep), who is a US senator. Marco visits Shaw and tries to get Shaw's help in figuring out what happened, but Shaw is reluctant to get involved. he suspects Marco is insane. Little does he know, his mind is being controlled by the very same people Marco's been dreaming about.
Arguably, the actors in this remake are better than the actors in the original, or at least Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep and Liev Schreiber give more nuanced and complex performances. Yet, better isn't necessarily better. Frank Sinatra's Capt. Marco was a troubled man, who still was in control, he grounded the film; Washington's Marco is progressively more unstable and somehow less satisfying as a-man-no-one-will-believe cliché. Schreiber, who even looks a little like a baby-faced Laurence Harvey, plays Raymond with a gentle vulnerability, which would make him appealing as the would-be candidate, but it was Harvey's unrelenting nastiness that made it so ironic in the original that he ultimately became both heroic and sympathetic. This film begs you to like Raymond Shaw; the previous one dared you to. Even Kimberly Elise, whose Rosie is now an intricate part of the story, lacks that cool charm and dry humor of Janet Leigh's mysterious and ultimately irrelevant character in the first film. The characters have been rewritten, but not reenergized. Streep, with the thankless job of trying to fill the iconic shoes of Angela Lansbury, gives her character a controlled ruthlessness that is perfectly believable; but lacking that mix of cold-blooded ruthlessness and cheerfully vicious opportunism that made Lansbury's performance a classic. Streep gives a fine performance; Lansbury gave a unique performance. Plus, by making Streep an actual Senatorm logical, given the times, her power is made obvious and the character is the weaker for it. Lansbury, on the other hand, was playing Lady Macbeth, a power behind the throne whose dominance was all the more frightening because it was unexpected, inexplicable, yet unquestioned.
To their credit, the filmmakers have tried to follow the blueprint of the original film, while still adding twists and clever surprises to make the story different, if not fresh. Unfortunately, many, if not all, of the changes don't work or don't improve anything. Despite a reasonable effective start the film begins a downward arc, right up to a twist-upon-a-twist ending that makes the unlikely plot seem simply stupid. It says something when you end a film with a political assassination and still can't generate suspense. And it doesn't help that the convention and rally sequences all look totally fake. Some films are simply products of their times; they don't translate to different eras. Frankenheimer's "The Manchurian Candidate" is one; it plays as fresh and exciting today as it did them, but it is nonetheless an artifact of the Cold War era. It tells us something about America, circa 1950-1965. All Demme's "Candidate" tells us about 21st century America is that Hollywood has gotten lazy. Not a bad film by any strech of the imagination, but not up to the original version."
Very exciting, with some twists.
Becky White | Seattle, WA | 09/01/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Of course, I don't usually watch these types of action movies, but I knew that anything Ms. Streep is in must be quality, and I was right. Yes, I did like this movie, although, I remember reading the novel, years ago, and they really changed the story around in this version. Everyone has to keep up with the times, I suppose. The most entertaining things are the plot twists at the end, where you don't really know what's going to happen next -- and Mr. Washington does keep you on the edge of your seat. This movie is definately for the younger crowd. I will reserve anymore judgement to them. I'm sure they will enjoy it more than I."