Film Reviews

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE

By • Jul 30th, 2004 •

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Paramount Pictures
Rated R / Running time: 130 min

QUOTE: A haunting, serviceable thriller.

Due to my research in the UFO arena in the 80s and early 90s, I became embroiled in the adjunct Mind Control conspiracy field. I was sent tons of documents from people claiming to be implanted and spied on by a rogue segment of our government. I got X-rays showing their brain implants. I got calls pleading for my help. This is all due to the fact that the now infamous Jose M. R. Delgado, M.D. wrote a book called “Physical Control of the Mind: Toward a Psychocivilized Society” in 1969. I understand that most politicians have heard from these tormented people. Politicians call them “wavies.”

I wrote an article titled “What Would Freud Say?” about the people who claim to be implanted by either evil aliens or a shadow government.

I vaguely remember seeing on TV the 1962 THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE directed by John Frankenheimer. I vividly remember Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) as a man on the verge of a psychotic breakdown: Reed thin, sweating, and looking crazy, Frankenheimer dwelled on Harvey’s feline frailty. Harvey’s Shaw looked like he could easily be caught under his mother’s spell and manipulated by her seductive charm. There was a weird sexual halo stalking their relationship. Frank Sinatra played Bennett Marco, the man who recalls the strange brainwashing experiments he and Shaw underwent. Physically, Marco was Shaw’s alter-ego. They were matched opposites.

Now in this updated re-make we have “golden son” and heir-apparent to a political dynasty Raymond Shaw played by Liev Schreiber and Denzel Washington as Army Major Bennett Marco. Shaw is an aristocrat. Bennett is the Everyman with a messy apartment and no friends. The other pivotal role, that of Shaw’s powerful mother, Eleanor Shaw, originally played brilliantly by Angela Lansbury, is now in the hands of Meryl Streep.

Director Jonathan Demme has fleshed out the story. Everything is laid out neatly. Where there once was ambiguity and dark areas, now there is blunt clarification.

In 1991, Squad Sergeant Shaw, under the command of Bennett during Desert Storm, saves the platoon while under enemy fire and is awarded the Medal of Honor.

It is over a decade later and Bennett, after giving a talk to Boy Scouts, encounters another member of the platoon. He (Jeffrey Wright) tells Bennett he is having severe nightmares about Shaw. He is very troubled. Bennett encourages him to get psychological help but the problem is he has been suffering from nightmares as well. He comes to believe that the entire platoon was electronically brainwashed. There was no heroic battle during Desert Storm. They were implanted with the false memory that Shaw was a war hero. And now Shaw, with political pressure from his mother, has just secured the Vice-Presidential nomination of their party.

The problem here is that Schreiber plays Shaw as a really good man who would actually make a great candidate on his own merits. People like what he has to say. His two-terms as a Congressman have been impeccable. Yet, privately he comes off as arrogant (“Don’t touch me,” he twice tells Bennett), aloof, and unemotional. He treats his mother like an aide. Streep attempts to overcome their lack of chemistry by being overly demonstrative. Schreiber is stoically remote. Shaw really doesn’t need his mother’s guidance. She is an annoyance, not an emotional crutch. And there is no sexual guilt that would bind Shaw so devotedly to his mother. Even though Shaw has dialogue explaining their relationship, I didn’t see it.

As far as Schreiber is concerned, he met Streep when she walked on the set.

I wonder if the lack of emotional connection between Schreiber and Streep was noticed. Why would Demme place Streep kneeling at Schreiber’s feet while he is apparently undressed in a bathroom (or sauna)? And the 1962 full-on-mouth kiss? Only suggested here.

With Washington starring as Bennett, the focus is on his discovery of the truth. He is at first suspicious when a woman, Rose (Kimberly Elise), approaches him on the train to New York City. Conveniently, she has a cousin’s empty apartment in the city and Bennett needs to take a shower. Rose tells him she works at the supermarket where he shops. He believes her. He confides in her.

As an updated remake THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE stands on its own. While it will not become the classic the 1962 film was, it is in color and has extreme close-ups. (I recently spent a few minutes watching THE MALTESE FALCON on TV. It’s like watching a stage play from the last row of the balcony.) Washington’s appeal is strong. His voice is filled with sincerity and he is able to convey a line of dialogue with emotion. While I think Schreiber was the wrong casting choice, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is still a haunting, serviceable thriller.


Directed by Jonathan Demme. Based upon a novel by Richard Condon. Screenplay by Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris, based upon the Film Screenplay by George Axelrod.

Cast: Denzel Washington (Ben Marco); Meryl Streep (Eleanor Shaw), Liev Schreiber (Raymond Shaw), Kimberly Elise (Rosie), Vera Farmiga (Jocelyn Jordan), Jon Voight (Sen. Thomas Jordan), David Keeley (Agent Evan Anderson), Jeffrey Wright (Al Melvin), Bruno Ganz (Delp).
Supporting Actors: Dean Stockwell, Bill Irwin, Al Franken, Roger Corman, Ted Levine, Miguel Ferrer.
Produced by Tina Sinatra, Scott Rudin; Produced by Jonathan Demme and Ilona Herzberg.
Dir. of Photography: Tak Fujimoto, ASC; Editor: Carol Littleton, A.C.E. and Craig McKay, A.C.E.; Prod. Design: Kristi Zea; Costume Designer: Albert Wolsky; Music: Rachel Portman.

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