I'd held off for a bit on seeing this; the original Manchurian Candidate is an all-time favorite movie, and, well, you know...
At the end of this film I scooted over to my bookshelf and grabbed the DVD case of the original. My guess was the remake was no more than 90 minutes and the original must have been at least two and 1/2 hours in duration. Good Lord! They were both exactly 129 minutes long!
There's a profound lesson here. The first film, in that wonderful 129 managed to tell a great story, travel a lot, freak me out repeatedly, stun me with novelty (the playing cards, the whole Republican/McCarthy/Lincoln shtick, the "flower show' interrogation, the "jump in a lake", getting drunk with Shaw, and on and on) work in a great love story, work in a tragic love story, work in a pathological love story, and develop a host of intriguing characters, and thrill me with what seemed to be an unending sequence of marvelous performances. The equally lengthy remake stirred little sympathies and seldom got off the ground. As storytelling, the film spun its wheels. You'd think if you remake a movie, ignore character development, ignore any relationship development, ignore any complex and intelligent commentary on modern goings-on (it was just terrorism and corporate involvement in war handled in the most superficial way)--ignore a whale of a lot--you could bring the thing in at about 48 minutes, maybe 60 with commercials. If I watch it again (not likely) I'll have a stop-watch handy and I'll take notes. It was like some magic trick.
So what happened in that 129 minutes anyway? I'm honestly not sure--Denzel Washington sweats a lot and communicated none of the subtlety and complexity that Sinatra managed, Meryl Streep brought on the heretical thought that maybe she's overrated and maybe Angela Lansbury was underrated, I missed Janet Leigh who delivered the same lines splendidly, I missed the black humor and irony and ambiguity, and who the heck was that bad Lawrence Harvey impressionist? Motivations were lost, the WHOLE POINT that everyone hated this guy but parroted their adoration for him wasn't presented clearly, and the motivation for the entire brainwashing venture was muddled up by the script after first stating that it was all about control. What a mess. Every time the film tried to echo the original, it'd already gone so far off track that it just confused matters even worse.
My serious suggestion is that some professor (and not necessarily a film professor) have a class watch both versions, note what went right in 129 minutes in the original, and what went horribly wrong in the 129 minutes of the remake and then have the students try to explain why. My guess is the answers will be fascinating.
It's a one-star movie but I give it two because it was up against impossible-to-beat competition.