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PCR # 228  (Vol. 5, No. 32)  This edition is for the week of August 2--8, 2004.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"The Manchurian Candidate"

Movie review by:
Michael A. Smith

Three and a half stars

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

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Paramount Pictures     
Starring: Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, Jeffrey Wright and Jon Voight
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Rated: R
Running Time: 2 hours 10 mins

As a film fanatic growing up, I had heard much about the 1962 film, "The Manchurian Candidate." I would read reviews of other political thrillers and invariably would come across the line "but doesn't compare to "The Manchurian Candidate." A story of politics that ends with an assassination attempt, the film was shelved by the studio at the request of star Frank Sinatra after President Kennedy was murdered. It wasn't until the late '80s, when Sinatra gave his blessing for a re-release, that I was able to see the film and confirm everything that I had read about it. The film was, indeed, a certifiable classic. So why remake it?

Maybe remake is the wrong word. Like Tim Burton's version of "Planet of the Apes," the film is more of a retelling. Fortunately, unlike Burton's ape fest, this version stands on its own as a powerful film, combining politics and suspense in a way rarely seen anymore on film.

The film begins in the deserts of Kuwait, as members of Captain Ben Marco's (Washington) military unit prepare for action in Operation Desert Storm. His squad is tight and Marco puts much faith in his senior NCO, Raymond Shaw (Schreiber). During the night, the unit is attacked, with Marco knocked unconscious during the battle. Jump ahead to the present where Marco, now a Major, is giving a presentation to a group of Boy Scouts. He talks about the attack and informs them that, because of his actions, Raymond Shaw was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. We then learn that Shaw is now a popular congressman and soon to be a vice presidential nominee. We also find out that Shaw is the son of one of the most powerful Senators in Washington, DC, Eleanor Prentiss Shaw (Streep). After his talk, Marco is approached by a former member of his unit, Corporal Melvin (Wright). Melvin tells Marco about strange dreams he is having. Marco tells him to see a doctor. But Marco is having the same dreams, and he must find out what they mean.

Two separate, but equal, areas make this film as good as it is. First, a talented cast, headed up by multiple Oscar-winners Washington and Streep. Secondly, director Demme who, after a few misses, finds himself back in "Silence of the Lambs" form. Schreiber is perfectly cast as a strong, quiet man who does his best to lead with his heart while having to deal with the same dreams the others have endured. Streep, coming off as a stronger version of Hillary Rodham Clinton, is icy when necessary but also motherly in the protection of her son. In smaller but significant roles, both Wright and Voight stand out, as does Kimberly Elise, who may not be who Major Marco thinks she is. Co-produced by Frank Sinatra's daughter, Tina, the film is a perfect compliment to the original yet also stands alone as a fine thriller. Somewhere, the Chairman of the Board is smiling.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give "The Manchurian Candidate"  Three and a half stars

This week's movie review of "The Manchurian Candidate" is ©2004 by Michael A. Smith.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2004, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2004 by Nolan B. Canova.