The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Manchurian Candidate is a thriller with intense and graphic violence, including many murders (gunshot, strangling, drowning) and injuries. Characters drink, smoke, and use drugs. There's some very strong language. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of strong, intelligent, loyal, and capable citizens.
What's the story?
As in the original 1962 film, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE focuses on soldier Ben Marco (Denzel Washington), who is haunted by nightmares of serving in the Persian Gulf War. Marco knows the story of the incident that got him his medal. Everyone who was there uses the same words to tell the story and especially to describe Raymond Shaw (Liev Shreiber), who got the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery. Marco meets up with a member of the platoon who is badly damaged. Is it post-traumatic stress, or is it his brain fighting back from something it has been programmed to believe? Meanwhile, Shaw is struggling as well. Being a war hero helped him be elected to Congress and he's now a contender for the vice-presidential candidacy. His mother (Meryl Streep), a Senator, is pushing him very hard. He resents it, but cannot seem to resist. The senator purrs, seduces, and finally brutalizes a group of politicos into abandoning their choice for the VP spot and taking Raymond instead. But Marco is increasingly troubled. Shaw is at first glad to see him again, then sympathetic, then skeptical. What Marco is suggesting seems absurd, impossible. But in his heart, Shaw knows that it might explain everything.
Is it any good?
This sleek and supple thriller features powerhouse performances, but never quite persuades us that it has anything to add to the Cold War classic starring Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury. Director Jonathan Demme ably creates a believably creepy atmosphere and there are some great visual effects, especially Shaw's hotel room, which includes an infinitely refractive illusion in a picture that hangs over the bed. Streep is mesmerizing.
But some of it gets overheated, especially a mad scientist who of course has an English accent and is scrupulously polite and a murder assignment that makes no sense as a matter of logistics. And the big reveal about the bad guys does not have the same punch of the original; it is not as successful at tapping into the fears of the moment.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about how this movie compares to the original and how each film is a reflection of its times. Marco says, "I thought I knew who the enemy was." Who was the enemy? What does the choice of bad guy tell us? Is an "emotionally compromised past" a "terrible burden" from which someone must be freed?
How does this remake compare to the original? How are the issues of the 1950s different than the issues of the 2000s? How are they similar?