Denzel Washington as Ben Marco
Meryl Streep as Eleanor Shaw
Liev Schreiber as Raymond Shaw
Kimberly Elise as Rosie
Vera Farmiga as Jocelyn Jordan
Jon Voight as Senator Thomas Jordan
David Keeley as Anderson
Jeffrey Wright as Al Melvin
Sakina Jaffrey as Mysterious Arabic Woman
Simon McBurney as Noyle
Paul Lazar as Gillespie
Alyson Renaldo as Mirella Freeman
Adam LeFevre as Congressman Healy
Robyn Hitchcock as Laurent Tokar
Pablo Schreiber as Eddie Ingram
1962’s “The Manchurian Candidate” is considered one of the 100 best movies of the 20th century. Angela Lansbury’s performance is considered one of the best ever given by an actress in a movie, along with some of the best acting work in the careers of Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey. Director Jonathan Demme has teamed up with Tina Sinatra, as a producer, to update this classic for the modern audience.
Demme was fortunate enough to get high-quality actors to reprise the roles. Denzel Washington plays Frank Sinatra’s role of Ben Marco. Denzel brings as much depth of character and range of emotion as Sinatra brought to the role. He is also helped because he is not burdened with a “the girl” role. Janet Leigh served no purpose in the original, except to add some sex appeal to the movie, which she did well. Kimberly Elise reprises Leigh’s role of Rose/Rosie in an expanded and more crucial part.
Raymond Shaw is still the character upon which the story hangs. This time Liev Schreiber takes over for Laurence Harvey, and the war in which he is honored is moved from Korea to Kuwait. Schreiber’s and Harvey’s approach to Raymond Shaw are eerily similar and the actors look similar enough that you can easily picture them in either film. Upon Raymond’s return from the war, he is greeted by his mother Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep). This is one of the largest changes from the original. Since it is now acceptable for a woman to be a senator, the role of Sen. Iselin was not necessary. The character originaly played by Angela Lansbury was given even more power and influence by making her a Senator. Also, the anti-McCarthy rhetoric of Iselin would be lost on many of today’s movie viewers.
While Meryl Streep’s interpretation of Eleanor Shaw might not be as groundbreaking as Angela Lansbury’s, it is still powerful. Denzel and Liev are as good as the original actors. Unlike the 1962 release, which had some poor performances by background characters, the entire cast is on top form throughout the film.
This remake remains true to the feel of the original, even if the plot line has been changed. The alterations make the movie feel more up to date and add depth to some of the supporting characters. The visual effects and audio are all current Hollywood blockbuster quality and vastly improved compared to the original. The cinematography of the 1962 film is spectacular however, and given the technological advancements, the current version is not as good, but it is still a visually appealing movie.
Who should see this movie? If you have never seen the original, then you will be treated to a great story and a very well acted movie. If you are a fan of the original, there are enough differences in the plot line that the movie will still be somewhat of a surprise. There is a little bit of action, but the film is mostly a psychological thriller – so if you do not want to think about a movie, you will need to look elsewhere. There is virtually no humor in the movie and the love story from the original has been altered and is far in the background to the political machinations of the main characters.
Jonathan Demme did a very good job in remaking a classic piece of American cinema. While some people will be disappointed in remaking a classic, the movie has been updated well and brings the story to a new generation of film viewers. The only complaint I have is that the ending of the current movie is not as strong as that of the original, but it is still a good ending. Overall, the movie has strong performances in a character driven movie and should please most people.