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The Manchurian Candidate (Demme)

It's difficult to comment on this film without comparing it to the classic first version... made more difficult because although I saw the original some months ago I don't recall it with sufficient detail to be confident in my comparisons. (I think I liked parts of it very much but also felt the flow was somewhat awkward.) Nonetheless, here goes...

In the Frankenheimer version I remember the plot elements unfolding quite sequentially. In Demme's version the threads run in parallel, which I guess is a more modern form of story telling.

Liev Schreiber has the requisite mix of vulnerability and all-Americanism as Raymond Shaw. He's not as tormented or fey as Laurence Harvey was and I think projected a more believable public personae to be a political candidate. On the other hand, Harvey's Shaw was more multi-faceted.

Denzel Washington's Marco was more proactive in trying to solve the mystery than I recall Sinatra being and at the same time more ... well, pathetic is the word that comes to mind. I believe Sinatra (who obtained the rights to the novel and pushed for the original movie to be made) wasn't deemed right for the Shaw role because it wouldn't have been good for his leading man image to play someone so weak. I guess times have changed - Washington's Marco, if anything, sinks to even lower emotional depths than Schreiber's Shaw.

Meryl Streep - looking way more like Hilary Clinton than Emma Thompson did in Primary Colors - gives her best performance in recent times. In a critical early scene she has to single-handedly convince the gathered forces of the Democratic Party to nominate her unknown son into the Vice Presidency, and while there's no shortage of scene chewing going on as she does so, she carries it off. And the teethmarks she leaves on the furniture are nowhere near as pronounced as, say, an Al Pacino's would have been. Conversely, in the last scene she shares with Shcreiber (which, unfortunately, suffers from some awkward editing) she has the chance to underplay and again she does so to great effect.

That said, she still doesn't come close to Angela Lansbury whose tour de force performance scared the shit out of me.

I can see why some American conservatives would be offended by this movie. In the original movie the conspiracy was a Cold War plot by the Soviets and Chinese and while the heart of the evil was indeed homegrown, the domestic corruption was portrayed with a relative degree of subtlety. In contrast Demme dispenses with the external threat (although the backdrop is the current war on terrorism) and hones in on Haliburton and the American military industrial complex, stopping just long enough to change names and faces to avoid a lawsuit.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 1, 2005 8:34 PM.

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