The original Manchurian Candidate film is a very important one to me. It’s a sentimental favorite, as it was one of a handful of films that were the first in my life to spark the idea of “classic” in terms of filmmaking. It was one of the first truly great films I absorbed as a kid growing up, along with Sunset Boulevard, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, Arsenic and Old Lace, and a few others. So, more than most, I wasn’t sure what to think about a remake coming to theaters this summer.
Who would have thought? The new remake, from Jonathan Demme, is actually a surprisingly well-done endeavor. Reminiscent of the theatrical version of The Fugitive, this is actually one exception to the rule. With the film’s sub-plots about the war on terror, a “manufactured” presidential candidate, and the life of war veterans, The Manchurian Candidate not only feels entertaining, it’s a remake that feels… (dare I say?) important.
It’s hard not to draw parallels between Liev Schrieber’s title character, and current president George Bush. Both are the “fortunate sons” of past political leaders thrust into their own political careers, engineered by corporate America. Especially spooky was watching this film the first night of the Democratic National Convention (which is one of Manchurian’s first set pieces). But from the Al Franken-hosted, CNN spin-off in the film to the glimpses at the presidential political machine at work, the film resonates. It certainly fits into a new subgenre of 2004, along with Fahrenheit 9/11 and John Sayles’ upcoming Silver City.
Besides the new film feeling vital with the times, it’s just a sharp thriller. Demme is part of the SXSW family, so I was really hoping to enjoy the film. I haven’t been hooked on one of his films for years, but he’s done it this time. It almost makes you want him to do several psychological thrillers in a row, as this seems to be a strong area for him as a filmmaker. The Manchurian Candidate is overflowing with great style, and Demme pulls out a few tricks that make this much more cerebral and effective than your standard, summer popcorn flick. Actually, The Manchurian Candidate may be the best blend of political filmmaking and Hollywood filmmaking we’ve seen all year. Yet, it may not be so scary if much of it wasn’t the world we live in today.