Film Review - The Manchurian Candidate
Director: Jonathan DemmeCertificate: 15 (UK)Running Time: 129 minutesReviewed by Betty Wood.
I APPROACHED the viewing of this film already slightly bored by the current trend for the remaking of old films and in a week in which the Alfie remake had gone straight to Number 5 in the Screen charts.
Not convinced that a remake of the 1962 Cold war classic targeting Communism and starring Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury had anything relevant to say today, I found that I was slowly, scene by scene, drawn into this complicated, rich tale full of complex and dangerous characters. This is not an action film, although there are scenes of war and assasinations but a hypnotic story of mind control and the political power exerted by large, global firms.
From the opening scenes of soldier’s playing cards before going into action, the story goes back and forward in time and focus, moving between the main protagonists.
As the story, which begins in Kuwait in 1991, unfolds against the current day tensions of elections for the Vice-President, we begin to see US Army Major Bennett Marco (Denzel Washington) begin to doubt the reality of his 1991 Gulf War experience in which his Platoon (apart from two soldiers who died in the desert) was saved by Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Live Schriber).
I’m not going to describe the story in detail except to say that it raises serious questions about the tie-ins between political power and big corporations; the use of mind control techniques on combatants; the use also of personal power in the steely character of Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw (Meryl Streep), who is Sergeant Shaw’s mother.
The ending of the film is slightly contrived as the films pace changes and it seems to rush to present a conclusion, which ties up the loose ends.
The acting in this film is of a high calibre particularly Meryl Streep’s character who was so icy and powerful she made me shudder at times. The scenes with Streep, Washington and Schrieber were absolute stunners. The very deliberate camerawork focusing intently on the actors faces, showing every nuance of emotion, added to the impact and contrasted beautifully with other scenically powerful shots of burning oil fields and staggeringly high sky lines.
Smaller but equally significant roles were played by Jon Voight as Senator Thomas Jordan, by Jeffrey Wright as Corporal Al Melvin (a member of the saved platoon who is having strange and disturbing dreams).
Kimberly Elise as Rosie, a Federal Agent assigned to track Marco and learn what he knows is a key character. Previously unknown to me I was impressed by her performance and look forward to seeing her again.