“Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.” That is the line, recited word-for-word by each man who served with Shaw, which piqued Frank Sinatra’s curiosity in the original Manchurian Candidate. The fact that they all said it, while still remembering Shaw was totally unlikeable, was only part of their subconscious conflict.
Today, my curiosity piqued, I went to see the new version (not a remake, as much of the detail of the story has been changed) with Helaine. It’s a great movie. That not withstanding, I’m sorry I brought Helaine along. It is violent, suspenseful, very intense and not what she wanted to see.
In the original movie, Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is captured along with members of his unit, fighting in Korea. It is the Chinese (hence the title) who brainwash them all, sending Raymond home to assassinate a presidential candidate, allowing his stepfather to run in his place.
Angela Lansbury, as Raymond’s mother, plays one of the most evil and believable villains I’ve ever seen on the screen. The sexual tension between mother and son makes the whole thing even more disturbing.
Having this much respect for the original I went today expecting to be disappointed. I was wrong. The movie scores on nearly every level.
Liev Schreiber as Shaw brings the same distant, cold, aloof feel as Laurence Harvey’s original portrayal. He was brought up with privilege and power and no connection to the common man. He is devoid of warmth or compassion.
Denzel Washington is Major Ben Marco, the Frank Sinatra role from the original movie. You’ve seen Denzel playing this part before; the honorable man in a troubling situation. It works here.
Meryl Streep is not Angela Lansbury. I guess it’s unfair to even make the comparison because Lansbury’s original portrayal was so amazing – something I’ve never seen her come close to replicating.
Still, the role is intense and evil. And, the scene where she and her son come perilously close to a passionate kiss is as unnerving as similar imagery from the original.
I’ve heard a lot of people (including my wife) say that Streep’s role was modeled on Hillary Clinton. I actually didn’t see that – though I wasn’t particularly watching for it.
The interesting twist here is the center of the evil, originally Communist China, is now replaced by a multinational company which looks very much like Halliburton. There is no doubt that director Jonathan Demme went out of his way to make a number of analogies to our current administration. We’re not at the Oliver Stone level here, but approaching it.
The end of the movie, the portion past the actual climax, confused me. But, by then, the movie had made its points. Without it, Denzel Washington’s character would be dead, and I don’t think the producers wanted that.
The bottom line is, I recommend this movie… but with a huge proviso. There were a number of intense, sometimes gory scenes that I looked away from. If that kind of movie troubles you, stay away.