In this remake of the 1962 political thriller, Major Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) is a Desert Storm vet plagued by nightmares and hallucinations that he is unable to interpret. The only thing he is certain of is the involvement of a former member of his platoon, Congressman Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber), who is being pushed towards the White House by his domineering mother, Senator Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep).
Washington offers a subdued performance, more curious about the secret locked within his brain than tormented. As the emotionally challenged puppet of the Manchurian Global Corporation, Schreiber appears unsure of himself; wavering between sad and psychotic, he never truly defines his character. As the manipulative and sinister mother from hell, Streep is a tour de force; her carefully nuanced actions and words confirm her status as the most talented actress alive. The cast also includes the spirited Kimberly Elise, who appears as a love interest for Washington but may have a secret of her own.
Director Jonathan Demme, who hasn't had a hit since 1991's Silence of the Lambs, has tried to create a film full of paranoia but relies too heavily on symbolism and mood. Nevertheless, the intelligent script plays up the current state of fear that exists in the U.S., much like the Cold War did for the original. In keeping with modern sensibilities, the military is no longer portrayed as the evildoer; rather, big business is deemed to be the true Prince of Darkness.
With the impending U.S. election, The Manchurian Candidate is not only timely but eerily thought-provoking. Unfortunately, this version of the classic conspiracy film is not particularly memorable, and will go down in the annals of history as merely a footnote. Rating: 5 out of 10.