THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (2004)
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 The McCarthyism in previous iterations has been replaced by a sinister corporation – a modern take on “the enemy within” that presents a more layered plot to unravel – and highlights refreshingly intelligent quandaries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.