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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Sunday, April 20, 2014 - Edition No 893 

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MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, THE

SYNOPSIS:
Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) comes home a decorated war hero after the Gulf War of 1991, having saved his company singe handedly. His commanding officer, Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) begins to have doubts about that heroic act when insistent nightmares throw doubt on Shaw's claims. Shaw, meanwhile, has been fast tracked by his ambitious politician mother (Meryl Streep) to a Vice Presidency ticket in the coming US Presidential elections, on the back of his hero status, sideswiping Senator Thomas Jordan (Jon Voight). Marco finds a suspicious trail that suggests brainwashing, or its equivalent, has been used to take control of Shaw, by forces that seem intent on controlling power and billions in military expenditure.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The Cold War was still hot in 1962, when the original film was made (from the earlier novel). Brainwashing had been a feared tactic used by unscrupulous communist powers (or at least it was considered possible by a nervous West) to take control of useful target subjects. This genuine political backdrop gave the concept a certain plausibility in a fictional setting. Taking much of the original concept as its creative bed, the 2004 version makes two major changes: the action moves from 50s Korea to the Gulf War in 1991, and second, the brainwashers are now a bunch of corporate powerbrokers running Manchurian Global, a conglomerate, who have the unenviable task of working with Eleanor Shaw, Ray's mother and a political shark of the first order, to subvert the Presidency for the sake of greater profits. This is a bad mistake.

There is no natural fit in the original idea and the new conceit; the venality and greed of corporations is matched only by the venality and greed of individuals working for them. That's what makes companies: people. The arena where misguided ideals topple natural morality (on such a scale) is in politics alone.

But if you strip away the fatal mistakes, Jonathan Demme's film is an industrial version of the original, loud in parts, aggressive as the Gulf War, muscle bound with action and thriller elements, sundanced only with Rachel Portman's score (albeit rather upstaged by a rock soundtrack).

The cast is flawless and top marks for all the choices, from Denzel Washington's multi-layered, confused and determined Ben Marco, through Live Schreiber's inspired Shaw and the brainwave casting of Bruno Ganz in the key support role as an eccentric scientist (we never learn who he is or where he fits in exactly) and to the revelation of Kimberly Elise as Rosie, who is not what she first seems.

Demme's direction is as punctilious as it was in Silence of the Lambs, careful with details and craftsmanlike with story telling - although we do have to work a bit to stay on top of things. He builds a credible and wonderfully solid mood, and if he'd only smacked the script back into real politics instead of trying to play into anti-American sensibilities, he would have made a remarkably intelligent remake.

Review by Louise Keller:
A chilling and intriguing political thriller, The Manchurian Candidate is a superb story about power and mind control. The setting may be different from John Frankenheimer's 1962 screen version of Richard Condon's novel, but Jonathan Demme's remake has been injected with all the elements to keep it fresh. The original Cold War setting has been replaced by that of the Gulf War, but it's today's political climate of corporate dirty business that gives the film the edge. Politics and big business are merged as one grimy entity; ethics and popularity are not mandatory ingredients for winning

It's a taut, smart film, with Demme using his considerable skills to massage the tension and lure us into uncertainty. Mood is well established, as we explore what is real and what is fabricated. There is an alarming realisation of the consequence of memory implants as we begin to understand the difference between fact and what is remembered. How vulnerable is the human mind, to both the negative and the positive.

A group of soldiers playing cards in the back of a tank in the Kuwaiti desert. They are laughing and joking as if they do not have a care in the world. The camera lingers and it is not until later that we realise the significance of these scenes. An order is given and the card game is over.

Three strong central performances (played by Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury in the original film) deliver a wide range of emotions, making our journey an emotional one. (Tina Sinatra is one of the producers; her father Frank held the rights to the original film.) Denzel Washington draws us to him by underplaying Major Ben Marco, a man haunted by his past. Less is more, as Washington underplays his confusion and turmoil, creating layers of complexity. Until now, Marco's life has been mechanical, but the discovery of an implant in his shoulder, coupled with growing suspicions about his army colleague Raymond Shaw, brings new purpose to what has been a mechanical routine. Liev Schreiber superbly conveys Raymond's complexity, coupling the debonair outward façade with inner torment. But it's Meryl Streep's formidable, manipulative mother from hell that steals all the scenes. She is the ambitious, brilliant senator who switches from effusive charmer to callous dictator in the blink of an eye.

Shot in the Sahara Desert, Washington and New York, tension builds as Marco starts asking questions and delves into his past, but it's the focus on the central relationships that bring the greatest rewards. There are a few twists and turns and the climax doesn't disappoint. Here is one remake that delivers on its own terms. It's an intelligent, thought-provoking film that leaves us stimulated and satisfied.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

FEATURE

MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, THE (MA)
(US, 2004)

CAST: Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, Jeffrey Wright, Kimberly Elise, Jon Voight, Ted Levine, Miguel Ferrer, Bruno Ganz

PRODUCER: Jonathan Demme, Ilona Herzberg, Scott Rudin, Tina Sinatra

DIRECTOR: Jonathan Demme

SCRIPT: Daniel Pyne, Dean Georgaris (novel by Richard Condon, 1962 screenplay by George Axelrod)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tak Fujimoto

EDITOR: Carol Littleton, Craig McKay

MUSIC: Rachel Portman

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kristi Zea

RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 21, 2004







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