Thursday Night Movie Club
The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
star rating graphicstar rating graphic½
Release Date: July 30, 2004

Director: Jonathan Demme
Denzel Washington
Meryl Streep
Liev Schreiber
Jeffrey Wright
Kimberly Elise
Jon Voight
Ted Levine
Miguel Ferrer
Bruno Ganz
Tom Stechschulte
Pablo Schreiber
Anthony Mackie
Dorian Missick
Jose Pablo Cantillo
Teddy Dunn
Ben Marco
Eleanor Shaw
Raymond Shaw
Al Melvin
Senator Thomas Jordan
Colonel Howard
Colonel Garret
Robert Arthur
Eddie Ingram
Robert Baker
Poster of The Manchurian Candidate Poster of The Manchurian Candidate Poster of The Manchurian Candidate
The Manchurian Candidate is not a great movie. It's not bad either. It's your standard suspense thriller. Senator Raymond Shaw is a Gulf War veteran and war hero, whose mother has hand-groomed him for the Vice Presidency.

Dezel Washington and Liev Schrieber in Manchurian CandidateBut all is not well. Major Ben Marco is troubled by his past. He is haunted by nightmares of a mission during the Gulf War. He clearly remembers the details of a mission in which his troops are ambushed. He is injured during the attack and Shaw rescues the men, leading them out of the desert. Marco's dreams tell a different story but he can't put the pieces together. He decides to ignore them by taking No Doz and trying to get as little sleep as possible.

During a chance encounter with one of his former troops, Marco learns that others are having the same, exact dreams. He tries to track down the troops to learn if they all have the same dreams. He eventually discovers that they have all died from different accidents. Since the military believes he is suffering from Gulf War syndrome, he starts his own investigation. The fact that Shaw is running for the Vice Presidency disturbs him. What is the connection? Manchurian Global, a world-wide corporation that would love to have a puppet in the highest political office. One of their hidden agendas is perfecting implants that can change a someone's personality. If you are afraid to leave the house, a simple implant can help combat this fear.

The Manchurian Candidate is a cat and mouse thriller as Marco tries to learn what really happened in Kuwait and what the final plans are for him and Shaw. The problem is a lack of any and all suspense. This is a story of paranoia except that Demme makes it all to obvious that Marco is on the right track. His meeting with Shaw convinces both men that something is not quite right with their world. They can "recite" the events perfectly, except Shaw is haunted by not remembering that the events actually took place.

Meryl Streep as Eleanor ShawTo Demme's credit, he has assembled a fine cast. Washington entirely leads the film. He can bring out the right elements of paranoia and persecution of a man that no one will believe him. He is on his own. Liev Schreiber is excellent as the troubled politician. He shows both sides of the politician, his beaming, smiling public face and his stone-cold private face. He is clearing holding on to his mother's apron strings with both fists tightly clenched. Meryl Streep will certainly garner an Academy Award nod as the powerful, scheming mother. She has enough panache to sway the entire Democratic party to support her view. The government is a mess and only she can set things right. Eleanor wants for her son what she cannot have, the Presidency, and she will sacrifice everything to get it!

The problem with The Manchurian Candidate is that everything is so obvious! There are way too many mistakes with the story. One afternoon while taking a shower, Marco discovers a tiny implant just under the skin on his left shoulder. What, this is the first shower the guy has taken in 15 years! He promptly drops the implant down the sink drain so he loses his proof. Darn shame! Well if he has one, he might as well just go bite the same device out of Shaw. He could have simply left the device in place and ask the authorities to check Shaw out.

The ending of the movie makes even less sense! Shaw is wondering what his part is in the conspiracy. His part is based on the Constitutional "Right of Succession". If a President dies, he is replaced by the Vice President. Marco's hidden mission is to assassinate the President. Except, the conspirators decide to do this on election night that no one has been sworn in to office yet! Truth be told, I don't know what would happen, Constitutionally, if the President-Elect dies before he is sworn in to office. My guess is that there would be a re-election.

Denzel Washington and Liev Schreiber in Manchurian CandidateIn a final bit of stupid storytelling, Marco and Shaw both overcome their brainwashing. But Marco decides to shoot Shaw and his mother instead. He could have just gone to the Feds who have been watching over him because they also have their suspicions. The movie fails on the major plot-points that the screen writers should have gotten right.

Also gone from the original film is the quirky humor. In that film, Shaw is set off when he plays solitaire and sees the Queen of Hearts. This causes him to go leap in a fountain. In the re-telling, Shaw is set off by a simple code-phrase.

The Manchurian Candidate is O. K. but it is just a standard suspense story.