The Manchurian Candidate Jonathan Demme

What was the point of remaking John Frankenheimer's 1962 classic The Manchurian Candidate? The original, a deeply-layered political thriller that expertly satirised the brainwashing of America by the McCarthy-ist right, offered a profound and timely snapshot of Cold War paranoia in action and also predicted the Kennedy assassination with an eerie precision. Jonathan Demme's decision to remake the film for release during the past election year allows him to make some interesting political statements as well, especially in his decision to redirect the original's attack on anti-communist fear-mongering towards a new peril: the complicity of multinational corporations like Halliburton with the American government. On the whole, the remake works reasonably well, largely on the strength of excellent performances from Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, but the movie never quite manages to escape from the shadow of the original, which surely stands as a better film in almost every respect. Demme's many changes to the original all seem interesting enough as story decisions when taken in isolation from one another, but taken together there is no resonance between them. What makes Frankenheimer's film so wonderful is an almost symphonic quality in the script and in the direction, where different ideas get echoed from voice to voice and from storyline to storyline, adding layers upon layers of depth. Demme's revised vision is one dimensional by comparison, a point that is reinforced for us on the DVD by the director's commentary and a conversation with co-writer Daniel Pyne, which is consistently interesting but rarely suggests any real depth of understanding of the story they are reworking. The other extras (five deleted scenes; two outtakes; two short featurettes on the film and the cast; Liev Schreiber's screen test; commentary from political pundits) are standard fare. (Paramount)