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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

(Photo by Ken Regan. TM & 2004 by Paramount Pictures all rights reserved)

photo caption:
THE MAJOR HAS HIS SUSPICIONS, THE SENATOR HER AMBITIONS: Major Ben Marco (Denzel Washington, left) and Senator Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep) discuss the Senator's ambitions for her son, sergeant Shaw, at a Washington D.C. function.
end caption.

"The Manchurian Candidate": Denzel and Streep Star in Remake of Cold War Classic

Review by Kam Williams

In 1959, when Richard Condon wrote The Manchurian Candidate, the world was at the height of the Cold War. His chilling best seller, set during the Korean War, involved a Communist Chinese plot to brainwash American prisoners-of-war and program one of them to assassinate a U.S. Presidential nominee. The plot readily resonated with a country already vigilant about the "Red Menace" due to the paranoia generated by the McCarthy Era hysteria.

The book was brought to the big screen three years later by the late John Frankenheimer, legendary director of such screen classics as Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), Seven Days in May (1964), and The Train (1964). His adaptation starred Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury, and Janet Leigh.

After President Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald, an ex-Marine who had spent over 30 months behind the Iron Curtain, The Manchurian Candidate was suppressed for the next 25 years to avoid inspiring a copy-cat killer. Today, this substantial revision of the original story was undertaken by Academy Award-winning director Jonathan Demme, best known for the Silence of the Lambs.

Manchurian 2004 features Oscar-winners Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, and Jon Voight. The cast also includes Liev Schreiber, Kimberly Elise, Jeffrey Wright, Dean Stockwell, gospel singer BeBe Winans, pantomimist Bill Irwin, Miguel Ferrer, Obba Babatundé, comedian Al Franken, Anna Deavare Smith, author Walter Mosley, director Sidney Lumet, hip-hopper Fab Five Freddy, essayist Roy Blount, Jr., movie producer Roger Corman, network news anchor Forest Sawyer, folk singer Tom Chapin, and others.

Perhaps Demme's was distracted by the presence of so many celebrities on the set and that played a part in dragging down the production, because this version fails to measure up to the first. The plot has been revised to take place in the wake of the Gulf War Desert Storm with the scheme being hatched not by Communists, but by an avaricious, power-hungry defense contractor called Manchurian Global, a thinly-veiled, Halliburton look-a-like.

We find insomniac decorated Army veteran Ben Marco (Washington) devoting most of his days giving inspirational speeches about the heroics of Raymond Shaw (Schreiber), the sergeant who saved the day when their platoon was ambushed in the Kuwaiti desert. Shaw, meanwhile, is being groomed for higher political office by his overbearing, megalomaniacal mother (Streep), herself a U.S. Senator.

Coincidentally, all the soldiers from their unit seem to be plagued by similar nightmares. The question is whether the symptoms are simply Gulf War syndrome, as suggested by V.A. doctors, or evidence of an elaborate, diabolical mind-control scheme to turn the White House into a pawn of big business. Can Ben ignore the voices in his own head long enough to take on the increasingly Machiavellian Manchurian?

Denzel and Streep carry this movie which is laced with more twists than a Chubby Checker concert. Overall the film was more confusing than compelling and was amusing because of all the parallels to present-day politics.

Very good (2 and 1/2 stars). Rated R for profanity and graphic violence.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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