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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

Updating a classic conspiracy story

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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July 31, 2004 -- Some 42 years after the original classic film, “The Manchurian Candidate” has been remade. The new film isn't as good as the 1962 film, but it is pretty good. It is chilling, suspenseful and compelling. The acting, direction and camera work are all outstanding. The plot has some holes in it, but the film works despite that drawback.

It helps having a couple of academy award winners in Denzel Washington, who plays Major Ben Marco (the role originally played by Frank Sinatra), and Meryl Streep, who plays his black widow-like mother, Eleanor Shaw (originally played by Angela Lansbury, in a harrowing performance). A third excellent actor, Liev Schreiber (“The Sum of All Fears”) plays the part of Raymond Shaw, a politician and war hero being groomed for the White House by his mother, who has a lot of power in Congress. Like John Kerry, Raymond Shaw is parlaying his war record for a shot at the White House. The trouble is, Shaw's war record is phony. Only the men who served with Shaw know the truth, and they've been brainwashed to forget it. Shaw's been brainwashed, too. Also giving a good performance in the film is Kimberly Elise of “John Q.,” who plays the part of Rosie, a woman who befriends Marco.

Shaw's candidacy is part of an elaborate conspiracy to take over the federal government. In the original film, Communists were behind the conspiracy. Since communism has receded as a threat, the new film finds a different conspirator. There are a lot of similarities between the 1962 film and the 2004 version, but there are differences too. Even if you've seen the original, you might be surprised by the ending of the new film. It is pretty devious. Cinematographer Tak Fujimoto (“Signs”) uses some interesting tricks to heighten the tension in the film and add some energy to static scenes. His camera is always moving, pushing in or pulling out, or panning left or right. The camera movements, and the overlapping dialogue used, make it look a bit like a Robert Altman Film. Director Jonathan Demme (“Philadelphia”), also stages some highly effective dream sequences. The whole film has the creepy quality of a nightmare about it. Maybe that is why it works so well, despite the plot holes.

I saw this film right after watching the original (it was shown on PBS recently) and after watching the Democratic national convention. I was struck by how similar the speeches in the film were to the speeches in the convention. There are also a lot of similarities between Manchurian Global, a sinister company in the film, and Haliburton, a large company which has come under fire for its fat cat no-bid government contracts in Iraq. The film draws many parallels to real life, just as the original film did, playing on our very real fears about a dangerous world. The whole idea of controlling a president with a microchip is pure science fiction, however. It is much easier, cheaper and far less risky to control the government with lobbyists and large campaign contributions. It does not require an elaborate conspiracy. All it takes is a politician willing to accept money in return for tax breaks and favorable policies. Instead of just controlling the president, large corporations currently control Congress too, no science fiction paraphernalia required. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2004 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)