A review of ďThe Manchurian CandidateĒ by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: R for violence and language

Run Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

 

Try as they might, the cast of the 2004 version of The Manchurian Candidate canít generate the substantial psychological heat of the 1962 original of the same name.

No fault of Liev Schreiber or Meryl Streep, who give marvelous turns as a promising vice-presidential candidate and his manipulative Senator mother on the cusp of a pivotal election.

Denzel Washington is the man-in-the-middle, leading the narrative charge as U.S. Army Major Bennett Marco, who suspects that he and his platoon-mates may have been brainwashed during the Gulf War.

Anxious to spread the word and dump that tenacious monkey from his back, Marco attempts to contact the former members of his company. Getting to Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Schreiber) isnít easy, considering the powerful political machine raging behind his bid for the vice-presidency.†††††††††††† Marco perseveres, slogging through dark dreams and kaleidoscopic hallucinations in search of a resolution to the burgeoning nightmare.

Manchurian has a lot going for it; A-list cast, uber-director Jonathan Demme at the helm, and an abstractly sinister aura that puts the thrill in thriller. When itís good, itís very good, keeping its twists close to the vest and unfolding its mysteries in marvelous movie time.

The weak link is Washington, whose performance has a been-there-done-that wear-and-tear that permeates his significant screen time. His characterís insurmountable paranoia feels forced, lost in the confusion of post-traumatic stress or perhaps awards-season trolling.

Fortunately Schreiber maintains a fascinating air of superiority tinged with discomfiture throughout, and Streep chews the scenery to shreds as the ruthless, stifling (but perma-elegant) Eleanor Prentiss Shaw.

An attractive, albeit utilitarian thriller.