The Manchurian Candidate Review
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Produced by Jonathan Demme, Ilona Herzberg, Scott Rudin, and Tina Sinatra
Written by Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris
Starring Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, and Jon Voight
Based on The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon
Runtime: 2 hr, 9 min
Rated R for violence and some language
Released July 30, 2004
Reviewed January 24, 2013
The original version of The Manchurian Candidate is one of the few “classic” films that I have ever seen of my own free will. Granted, I was, in fact, looking for this version, but I thoroughly enjoyed the older version, which starred Frank Sinatra; it was intense, well-acted, and well-scripted. This version I ended up seeing about a year later, earlier today, actually. I was excited to see it, mostly because the original was so good and the fact that I am a huge Denzel Washington fan. That being said, my school doesn’t really have the best track record when it comes to showing good movies during class. If you’ve read my reviews, you’ll know that while we did watch Dead Poets Society we also watch the Michael Bay plot-hole-fest The Island. So I was fairly split down the middle going into The Manchurian Candidate. It had Meryl Streep in a co-starring role, which was good, but it also had Liev Schreiber (more on that later). In any case, here’s what I thought about The Manchurian Candidate.
The film starts out during the Gulf War, as a squad of soldiers led by Captain Ben Marco (Denzel Washington, Training Day) fall under attack by enemy forces. After Marco is knocked unconscious, Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber, RKO 281) bravely mounts a mounted machine gun and single-handedly defeats all the enemy forces before leading his squad through the desert to safety, sustaining only two casualties through the whole ordeal. Sound too good to be true? That’s because it is. Years later, Marco, now a major, begins to have dreams that seem to point towards what he thinks happened not being what really happened. Still with me? Okay. Shaw, a Medal of Honor recipient, has used his status as a war hero to become a vice-presidential candidate, a platform strongly supported by his mother, Senator Eleanor Prentiss (Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady) and the powerful international corporation Machurian Global. As Marco’s dreams become worse, he begins to suspect that Shaw may be have something sinister in store should he win the presidency, but first he needs to find out what really happened all those years before.
Alright, let’s start with The Manchurian Candidate’s biggest strength: the intensity. This isn’t the same intensity as, say, Saving Private Ryan. Whereas that movie had just pure freaking action that left you breathless, The Manchurian Candidate has a certain sense of dread that grows throughout the movie. Most of the time, you don’t see that outside of horror movies, but it is pulled off very well in this movie thanks to some great cinematography and imagery, great use of music, and some fair direction direction, as well as a great performance from Denzel Washington. The pacing is fast-paced without really being able to be called action-packed, which isn’t that easy, but, again, is still pulled off very well here.
As to the performances, they’re pretty good across the board. Of course you’ve got Meryl Streep, who is probably the greatest actress alive, and who was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance as Shaw’s uber- manipulative mother, Eleanor Prentiss. Her performance is fantastic, and she brings the power-hungriness and obsession that her characters has with her son to the surface very well. Denzel Washington is great, too, but not quite as good as Meryl Streep. Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter from Casino Royale) has a brief appearance as a former squadmate of Shaw and Ben who has been driven nearly insane by hallucinations of being brainwashed during the war. He is arguably the second best performance of the movie, despite only having about five minutes of screentime.
Now...Liev Schreiber...Liev Schreiber...I do not like this man. Why? Well, you see, in 2002 he co-starred with Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman in the adaption of the Tom Clancy novel The Sum of All Fears. In the movie, he played John Clark, my favorite character from the Jack Ryan novels. To say that I think Schreibers performance does not properly embody one iota of the essence of one of my favorite literary characters is like saying The Godfather is “just okay”. It’s just a huge freaking understatement. I’m not going into it, because I’m not reviewing The Sum of All Fears right now. I will never review The Sum of All Fears because that would involve watching The Sum of All Fears again. In any case, despite that, I guess Schreiber’s performance is okay...it’s good...it’s pretty great, okay. You made me say it.
Another thing that I liked was how everything came together. I have a bunch of friends in the class I watched this in, and they were all scratching their heads through most of the movie. I, myself, made it through Lost and perfectly understood everything, so I am not allowed to scratch my head at anything anymore. It’s a perk. In any case, the last quarter of the movie really summed everything up and brought it together to make it fairly easy to understand. You still have to think a little bit, which is great, because, for me at least, when everything is spelled out for me at the end of a movie, it takes something away from the movie. That might just be me being weird, but I love it when a movie makes you think about what’s happening.
My biggest problem is something that I generally don’t have a problem with in movies, quite simply because I usually don’t give two craps about it. In The Manchurian Candidate, whenever there is a dialogue scene between two characters, the character that’s talking always gets a close-up of their face so it looks like they’re looking directly into the camera. I don’t know what it is about this, but it bugged the heck out of me throughout the whole movie. I guess it’s okay when it’s someone who really knows how to act, like Meryl Streep, so you actually enjoy watching them act, but when it’s someone with a face like Liev Schreiber it’s like, “That is Liev Schreiber's face...Liev Schreiber is looking right at me. Now, that's Denz - nope, that's Liev Schreiber again...GET HIM OFF THE SCREEN!”. Like I said before, I usually couldn’t give two craps about camera angles and stuff like that unless they leave you with some kind of feeling after the movie, but I guess there’s an exception. And here it is.
So to sum up, The Manchurian Candidate is a fast-paced movie with great acting across the board, a great climax. It’s intense in a fantastic way, even if the direction does falter slightly during scenes with just talking. It might not be quite as good as the Sinatra version, but that feeling of dread some of the scenes leave you with is more than enough for me to recommend a viewing to you. See it if you can; it really is an enjoyable experience.
THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE’S FINAL SCORE: 24/29; 83%; A-
See the trailer for The Manchurian Candidate here.
Also, this week I'll be doing a short little three-part series about the films of Ben Affleck. Not the movies he's acted in, but the three movies he's directed...even though he has starred in two of his three movies. Anyways, just figured I'd give you a little preview. It starts on the 29th with my review of Gone Baby Gone. See you then.
Wannabe Movie Critic