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Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Casual Critic — Manchurian Candidate

Manchurian Candidate was a solid effort by produce Tina Sinatra to remake the 1962 film her father starred in. I can't say it kept me on the edge of my seat, but it was much more than a little intiguing.

Denzel Washington plays a veteran of the first Gulf War, Ben Marco, who can't shake the feeling that something is wrong with his memories of the war. When the hero of his unit, Raymond Shaw, is thrust into the national spotlight as the unexpected vice-presidential candidate, his suspicions lead to action. He is branded as paranoid by the military, a label we never suspect is true as much as we might have, and we get an ending that is just ok.

My only major criticism of the film was the motivation of the Manchurian Global corporation, which was suspected of brainwashing the military unit. Only after I learned — in the DVD extras, which were decent — that the original film used a communist link as the suspected source of evil did I know what was nagging at me. There just wasn't enough motivation for Manchurian to try to create, and ultimately control, a candidate.

I was drawn into the film rather quickly. In fact, some of the plot lines that were hinted at but ultimately never pursued were downright scary, as it seemed like there was going to be some unintended parallel link to the way John Kerry toted his military service in the latest presidential race. (There wasn't.) However, the sci-fi, psychological elements that prevailed erased the this-isn't-so-far-fetched potential. (Unless . . . nah!)

Washington brought his usual passion to the role of Marco. He sells the potential paranoia of his character pretty well, and I thought he made the connection between Marco and Raymond Shaw work. That connection, made in the one scene the two are alone, allows the ending.

There were some other big names in this film besides Washington. Meryl Streep was very good as career politician Eleanor Shaw, Raymond Shaw's mother and a key player in the sinister Manchurian plot. The "bitch" in the character wasn't overdone, though there was one freaky scene with her and her son that had Oedipal overtones that seemed out of place. Jon Voight's role as the jilted V.P. candidate seemed like it was cut short and could've offered more.

This one is worth watching, especially if you're a fan of Denzel Washington.

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