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Washington, Streep Co-Star in Revamped Classic <i>The Manchurian Candidate</i> - 2004-08-14


While the events of the real presidential election play out on the news, a new political thriller arrives at American theaters. Based on a classic film from the 1960s it mixes a fictional campaign with conspiracy theories of plots to take over the U.S. government. Alan Silverman has a look at this new version of The Manchurian Candidate

Whatever happened to Army officer Ben Marco and his soldiers in Kuwait in the first Gulf War is something he can not explain; but it is giving him and the other survivors of his mission nightmares.

The hero of that mission is Sergeant Raymond Shaw, now a Congressman and his party's vice presidential candidate. Marco comes to believe that, instead of fighting a battle, they were actually captured and electronically "brainwashed" - implanted with digital devices that put their minds under someone else's control.

Is Marco ranting as he spirals into paranoia? Or has he uncovered a conspiracy by a massive international corporation named "Manchurian Global" to elect their own candidate.

The Manchurian Candidate is based on a novel by Richard Condon and was first filmed in 1962 at the height of the Cold War with Frank Sinatra starring as Ben Marco. In this new version, Denzel Washington plays the captain who may be delusional, but will not be ignored.

"I just hadn't read anything like this. It's very smart and complicated," he says. "I had to read it a couple of times. The original script I read was really complicated, but that was good."

Director and producer Jonathan Demme says this new film has significant plot differences from the original The Manchurian Candidate. For instance, the conspirators in the 1962 film were Communist, not corporate; but Demme believes the core theme is still remarkably relevant.

"In the late 1950s and early '60's we were a country gripped with enormous fear: fear of Russia and China and missiles aimed at us and Communism. There was an amazing level of fear," he notes. "We're not talking about paranoia here, we're talking about fear. Now, once again, our country is gripped in the most profound fear imaginable and one of the things that really appealed to me about re-imagining this picture is that, arguably, multi-national corporations that profit by war as ominous a presence as we've got out there today."

Meryl Streep co-stars as a powerful and hawkish U.S. Senator who believes the corporate connection is necessary to protect American security.

"Think how events have galloped to keep pace with our movie. You couldn't have designed it, but it wasn't," she says. "It took a long time to make this movie, but somehow synchronicity has caused the events to be present-day."

Some critics charge that the film is politically motivated: that the fictitious "Manchurian Global" is a thinly veiled reference to real multinational corporations and alleged ties to top government officials. Denzel Washington says it is meant to entertain, not provoke; but he thinks the louder the protests, the better for the movie.

Let's hope they are that foolish because, if nothing else, this year has taught us that when people protest and are upset with a movie it becomes a big hit," he says. "So let's upset and get as many protests as we can get going. There were those that hated The Passion Of The Christ and it worked out pretty well for the box office so let's get that going. I mean, it's a movie. If it makes people think a little bit, that's the point. Make up your own mind. Don't be brainwashed."

The Manchurian Candidate also features Liev Shreiber as Congressman Shaw; Jon Voight plays a pacifist U.S. Senator; and Kimberly Elise is an FBI agent trying to get to the truth behind the conspiracy theories.