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The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

Jonathan Demme transplants John Frankenheimer's 1962 mind-control thriller (based on the novel by Richard Condon) from the Cold War to a contemporary setting, with Denzel Washington starring as Major Ben Marco, a Gulf War veteran with lingering doubts about three days his unit spent in enemy captivity before their heroic rescue by Lt. Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber). Years later, Shaw is a candidate for Vice President and Marco is unraveling, plagued by nightmares that betray the veracity of his memories, convinced that he and Shaw are tools of a sinister conspiracy. When Marco confronts Shaw about his nightmares, Shaw is initially empathetic, but his domineering senator mother (Meryl Streep) brands Marco a paranoid kook, and Marco can't help but oblige when he begins frantically buzzing about chip implants and evil corporate overlords. Of course, since this is a thriller (and a remake), you can expect that Marco's tinfoil hat is picking up a fairly accurate signal. Fans of the original The Manchurian Candidate will doubtless miss Frankenheimer's stunningly crafted visual approach, his exquisitely staged key set-pieces, and his arch satire of politics as one form of brainwashing among many. Demme's remake is far less visually distinguished, easily confused with any of a variety of slickly produced hi-tech thrillers, and completely lacking in memorable sequences. Daniel Pyne's screenplay adaptation also drains the high-concept plot of the original's mitigating satirical subtext, suggesting that the filmmakers themselves share at least a parcel of Marco's paranoid nightmare. Despite this new infusion of disturbing sincerity, Pyne does manage to fix a few stray plot-threads and introduces some welcome extra facets to the story's mechanics. As a result, the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate is competent at best, but far from outstanding. At its worst, it's a work of small-minded didactic fantasy amplified by a Hollywood budget. Also with Geoffrey Wright, Jon Voight, Kimberly Elise, and, in cameos, Dean Stockwell and Al Franken. Paramount presents The Manchurian Candidate in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The disc also includes a commentary by Demme and Pyne, during which they discuss their successful avoidance of recreating the original movie's memorable scenes; "The Enemy Within: Inside The Manchurian Candidate" featurette; "The Cast of The Manchurian Candidate" featurette; five deleted/extended scenes with optional commentary; outtakes with optional commentary; Schreiber's screen test; and a curious 10-minute edit of inane political conversations by the likes of Fab Five Freddy, Anna Deavere Smith, Roy Blount Jr., and a couple of performance artists who are right in line with the film's overall juvenile political tone. Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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