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The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

“The Hollywood Remake Machine” is in full effect in this summer’s political thriller The Manchurian Candidate, based on the 1962 film and Richard Condon novel of the same name. Every year there is a drama that stands out amongst the entire computer generated and gross-out hoopla that plagues our cinemas from May to August. This summer, The Manchurian Candidate is just that movie.

Captain Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) suffers from “Gulf War Syndrome”. Even thirteen years after his initial tour of duty he still feels some of the effects. Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Liev Shreiber) served under Captain Marco in Kuwait and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his courage under enemy fire. Now he’s a congressman from New York who has been thrown into the mix for Vice Presidential candidacy, much do the delight of his heartless bitch Senator of a mother (Meryl Streep). Problem is, during the course of his campaign trail Captain Marco uncovers a deep and dark truth as to what really happened when the two were in battle.

Fresh off the media’s saturation of the Democratic National Convention, this film tweaks your interest and holds true to modern day America. Of course I sincerely doubt John Kerry has an implant in his head, but Bush on the other hand, …..well that’s another story for another time on another website. Politically this film is right down the middle, as should be one’s point of view when heading into the theatre. However evil the politicians may be in this movie, there is no sign of a swing left or right (even with Al Franken popping up from time to time). So if you are sick and tired of all this election mumbo jumbo, don’t worry this flick doesn’t get preachy. It is its own entity.

Instead of political bias, it is gripping story telling and outstanding performances that make this film glow in the midst of all the other “blockbusters” we’ve seen thus far. Much like what Magneto said to Pyro in last summer’s X2: X-Men United, “You are a God among insects”, I’d say that about The Manchurian Candidate.

The film twists and turns more times than a drunk driver on a mountain highway, only without leading to a cataclysmic cinematic accident. The Manchurian Candidate is deep, intense, and bone chilling, characteristics which it only shares with one other movie that has been released this year, another political thriller, David Mamet’s Spartan. Director Jonathan Demme rises like a phoenix from the ashes after his last attempt at a remake, the blasphemous raping of Charade in The Truth About Charlie. Demme is back! Shining as bright, if not brighter than his one-two punch of the early 90's with The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia.

Denzel does what only he can do best; portray a United States soldier/veteran who has major issues. But that’s okay. I’m not knocking him. Most actors when they play, similar roles over and over lose their intensity, lose their intrigue, and then lose our patience. But this is Denzel. He can play the same role a thousand times and still have you enchanted from beginning to end. Like Denzel, Streep’s “Eleanor Shaw” is magnificent. She gives the most bloodcurdling performance of her career, stealing every scene (as most villains do) with amazing grace. Watching Streep and Schreiber together makes me think of conversations between Norman Bates and his mother in the Psycho movies. Schreiber again proves he can hang with the big boys, only problem is that his last attempt at “hanging” left him hung in the flop Sphere. But the real standout performance of the film belongs to Jeffrey Wright. Wright is the greatest living character-actor working today. In what would normally be a throwaway role in any other movie, his two minutes in the beginning of this movie set the bar for what is to come for the rest of its running time.

I completely understand being sucked into the summer blockbuster phenomenon. Hell, I get sucked in myself. But amid the flashy competition, The Manchurian Candidate is the smartest film to see this summer.