In short... I was agginnit! A remake would be unnecessary at best, and a travesty at worst. Unfortunately, nobody listens to me (as the hits on this page might illustrate), and so, a-remaking Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris did go. Is their temporally updated screenplay unnecessary? Yes, completely! Is it a Travesty?
Denzel Washington takes over Frank Sinatra's (least Doo-be-doo-be-doooooo) role as Ben Marco, the Captain cum Major who is sucked into the proverbial global conspiracy with Liev Schreiber's Senator Raymond Shaw (the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life). In this version, Raymond Shaw is the Candidate of the Title (in the original, it was that character's Step-Father).
Shaw is the victim of a conspiracy of wealthy and connected brain washers to put a big business-controllable Pawn in the White House (told you it was prescient)! At the core of this conspiracy is a multi-national company called "Manchurian Global" (so they wouldn't have to change the title to The Iraqi Candidate). Because of the nightmares that Marco and his fellow Gulf War Unit Vets keep having about their barracks-mate Shaw, Marco becomes determined to find the truth about the brain-washings they may, or may not have experienced one fateful night.
But as sure as a sunburn on a Texan nudist, there's a Conspiracy's worth of opposition to Marco's Polo! Taking up Angela Lansbury's role as Shaw's menacing Mommy is the excellent Meryl Streep, practically sweating agenda at every turn. She's good, and she's opposition enough solo, but this queen has a whole chess board in front of her, including Miguel Ferrer, Jude Ciccolella, David Keeley, Bruno Ganz, Ted Levine, rock star Robyn Hitchcock, good old Jeffrey Wright and, of course, Zeljko Ivanek.
The main issue with this movie isn't the same problem most remakes have. Most remakes mistake age for imperfection and attempt to out-do the original. While Demme and company do update the time from the Kennedy-Era Cold War to the first Iraq War and the present, they don't seem to be trying to outdo the first film.
However, what this film does is miss many of the best elements of the original, tending to dumb down the important elements for the modern audience. The black comedy aspects of the first film as well as the multiple layers of the conspiracy are given bare exposure in this slimmer film. There's not much haunting, surprising or terribly real about this film, as opposed to what it could have been, and while the acting and directing are quite, quite good, the whole ultimately amounts to an "almost-as-good" experiment in remaking a movie.
Still, there's a lot to be said about what did make it to the screen. Demme's directing and strangely claustrophobic camera angles and omnipresent close-ups (you can count Schreiber's pores) make for a much more intense and introspective thriller than most of Whoreywood is willing to give you. Oh, it's dumbed down and inferior to the original all right, but compared to most Suspense thrillers of late, it's better and more capable than it has to be. Denzel Washington in particular gives one of his best performances in years. In the irony of all ironies category, check out Al Franken as the Fox-News-Like Reporter/ Greek Chorus. Funny as hell!
I keep going back and forth on the rating for this film, but I'm going ahead and giving Four Stars out of Five for the remake of The Manchurian Candidate. It's a hell of a Paranoid Fairy Tale, and it seems especially poignant in an election year. It might not be the original, but it beats the duck down out of Paycheck for your suspense thriller buck. On the other hand, John Ashcroft won't investigate you for watching Paycheck! Makes me wonder why they made it so clear that Shaw was a Democrat.The real bad news is that anyone and everyone who bought a ticket to this film with their credit card has now been added to a CIA Watch List along with anyone who has ever checked out Condon's book from the library. Hey, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you!
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