THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (2004)

by easyeights

Good premise, stilted production.

Part of the allure of watching Denzel Washington onscreen is the gravitas and purpose with which he fills the characters he plays: Major Ben Marco is no exception in a decidedly long list. But even the good Major is unable to save the excellent scripting from remarkably stodgy execution.

The Manchurian Candidate is a sci-fi thriller and war movie all in one with elements of Beltway intrigue thrown in for good measure. Meryl Streep is thoroughly at home as the slightly unhinged svengali; Liev Schreiber a world apart from his turn in X-Men, but (literally and figuratively) bears the protagonist’s role with great stoicism; Jon Voight as the man who ends up knowing too much and is subsequently killed for his pains.

What I liked best

The star-studded cast play their cliched roles to perfection. The McCarthyism in previous iterations has been replaced by a sinister corporation – a modern take on “the enemy within” that presents a more layered plot to unravel – and highlights refreshingly intelligent quandaries on the limits to which governments will safeguard their existence and interests.

What I did not like

The sound and props lack a convincing depth to them: the machine guns sound like pop guns, helicopters explode in a shower of sparks and so on. The action in the opening scene could have been lifted straight out of a B-movie from the ’90s. Even worse, the key scenes that highlight the brainwashing process stink of kitsch. I might be wrong, however; in retrospect, another way of interpreting it could be the absurdist recollections of PTSD trauma (that Major Marco so fervently dies) that tie in pretty well with his hallucinations in a throwback to the science fiction movies of the 1950s.

What I feel genuinely happy about

The Manchurian Candidate is an intelligent film. It goes above and beyond a generic Hollywood blockbuster to deliver an excellent – albeit flawed in delivery – story.

Rating: 3.5/5

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