Manchurian Candidate

Year: 2004
Director: Jonathan Demme
Cast: Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Meryl Streep

Jonathan Demme proved himself a master director in The Silence of the Lambs, and here he brings one of the best movies of the year, certainly the best political thriller.

The original was a brilliant movie for its time – any remake not only had to hold its own in the modern era but live up to a film that was ahead of its time (particularly in performance and scripting) in the early 1960's.

One of the only ways to make sure that happened was to choose two of the best actors living today, and without Washington and Streep, it would have been a far lighter film than it was – Liev Schrieber's presence only bolstered the credibility with his buttoned down but idealistic portrayal.

The first point of brilliance is that it's been seamlessly translated to the modern day – the 'experiments' have occurred in occupied Iraq during the first Gulf War rather than Korea in the early 1950's, and the Manchuria of the title refers to the holding conglomerate Manchurian Global.

Decorated heroes Ben Marco (Washington) and Raymond Shaw (Schrieber) have gone their separate ways – the former mostly keeping his life under control except for the dreams that plague him, the latter on the populist road to vice presidency of the US, courtesy of his politically shrewd mother, herself a senator (Streep, so obviously modelled on Hillary Clinton its hopeless her having denied it in interviews).

When a former platoon mate comes to see Marco to tell him about bad dreams and show him drawings in a notebook, he's obviously cracked, suffering from chronic shell shock – except that the dreams are the same as the one's Marco himself is suffering.

Paranoia creeps in to Marco's mind as he remembers more and more, from the fragmented (his dreams), to the very real and sinister (finding implants under his skin), and he tries to get close to Shaw to enlist his help in what's going on.

Things go from bad to worse when the young woman he's fallen in with turns out to be a federal agent of some sort, following and recording everything he does.

Fighting to get to the bottom of the mystery, Marco comes increasingly unhinged as Shaw tries his hardest to ignore his own doubts about his sanity and Marco's story.

Meanwhile, Eleanor Shaw and Manchurian Global have their own dark parts to play in the game – they won't come as a surprise if you've seen the original, but none of the impact is lost.

Demme uses several techniques to heighten the tension – having characters talk straight to the camera (as if we're the character they're talking to) gives everything a fierce intensity and adds to the claustrophobic squeeze of the circumstances.

It's a brilliant story to start with, and watching Washington and Streep (particularly as she works her political wiles on rivals and co-conspirators alike) is a unique pleasure for a filmgoer who can appreciate mastery of the acting craft

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