The Manchurian Candidate tells the story of Ben Marco (Denzel Washington), who slowly starts to question his reality as he begins dreaming that he was brainwashed during his time serving in the war. As he tries to find ally with the current Vice Presidential candidate and former war compatriot, Raymond Shaw (Liev Shreiber), things begin to spiral out of control.
This 2004 remake of the 1962 original is a haunting and resonant tale of government corruption within the military harking back to the MKULTRA days. A regular serviceman spirals into insanity after a bizarre encounter with a fellow solider. As a huge fan of the whole unreliable narrator bit, this movie makes you question whether Ben is just suffering PTSD-induced delusions or if he really is the victim of a brainwashing scheme. The whole “is he/isn’t he” kind of question hangs over most of the film and is ultimately answered in a shocking twist. As Ben’s paranoia rises, the audience is forced to question their reality along with him, never sure until the end whether he is crazy or a small pawn in a bigger scheme.
The performances from the whole cast are fantastic. Meryl Streep as Shaw’s mother is chillingly good and both Washington and Shreiber’s characters are tragic figures pushed by an evil government. Still, although vastly outlandish, the overall theme of distrust of the government resonance deep with many people. Though I would have thought this kind of film would be made in response to the Kennedy assassination, the original was actually released a year prior and was a commentary on the Korean War. This one focuses on the Gulf War but still echoes the mistrust Americans felt after learning about the level of government testing that went on during the Cold War.
Overall this film carries a haunting message delivered by a superior cast. It’s thrilling, it’s well-paced, and it contains a well thought out mystery that leaves you searching for answers until a gripping finale.
Amy’s Recommendation: 9/10