The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

Ok, so I am not the movie buff. When choosing between the original and the remake, I tend to prefer the remake, in the hope that thirty years of time have improved the storytelling. At least, thirty years are enough to change our attitudes about timing, script, and nudity a little.

So I chose the remake of "The Manchurian Candidate". I loved thinking of Meryl Streep in the role of a domineering and successful mother and senator. And you can’t beat Denzel Washington in the role of the good-but-doomed-to-fail character.

Other good moments: true to form, Streep and Washington deliver a credible performance, and even the heretofore unknown-to-me Liev Schreiber works quite well in the role of the eternally grinning Vice-Presidential candidate. Actually, the acting stands out in general: some of the minor roles have been intelligently cast, and overall the casting makes the whole movie look credible.

Kudos to the camera and director (Jonathan Demme, who has done better than this). The use of light throughout the movie is impeccable, highlighting, emphasizing, directing, bearing intuition and recognition with it. Stark overexposure contrast with dark passageways in a manner of reflection of the movie’s highlights and low points.

Unfortunately, there is something deeply not working about this movie. There is always the tension of making the original (probably lame by today’s standards) story work, and a lot of the events seem to be removed from logic in a quite consequential way.

Take the murder of Senator Arthur, for instance: Raymond Shaw (who is the candidate himself instead of just the son) walks into the water to kill the old man in a kayak. This is a variation of the original scene in which the son kills the senator in his house with a gun. Well, today’s forensics and the constant presence of a camera make such a murder appear silly. You wouldn’t send a VP candidate killing senators in the open water!

The script feels like an absurd combination of an old story, a powerful director more interested in scenes than in flow, and a writer that thought of symbolism before thinking of reality. All the time spent figuring out how to make the brain implants credible would have been surely better saved making the story cohere.

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