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The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Better than most action thrillers today but missing something critical
Compared to most big Hollywood action/thrillers nowadays, this remake of the Frankenheimer classic is indeed a good, solid piece of entertainment. It is successful in capturing today's overload of news/pop culture noise and flash, overwhelming you with background newsbytes and news images that serve to create a climate of fear and turmoil that is relevant to today. The acting is first rate, tho I think the weakest (of the three leads) is Washington. Much will be made of Streep's fine performance but the film belongs to Schreiber (if it belongs to anyone). The Hillary Clinton parallels have been entirely invented by the media pundits who hate the woman, Streep has hotly denied it as she is a great admirer of Hillary's and a supporter of the Democratic Party and Bill Clinton. (She's expressed her shock that people see Hillary this way.)
In comparison to the original, however, the film is entirely lacking in character development, strong interactions and memorable interplay. While Janet Leigh and Sinatra had strong chemistry and memorable dialogue, Kimberly Elise's character is a completely unmemorable cipher; she and Washington have absolutely zero chemistry.
What is missing entirely from the remake is the original's focus on characters. Frankenheimer dispensed with any clichés about the outsider-trying-to-prove himself-sane and instead concentrated on dramatizing the interaction between Marco and Shaw---the contrast between the patrician, cold Shaw and the vulnerable everyman Marco. The original allowed the audience to understand and get to know the cold, unlikeable Shaw so that we understand his pain. The film is an intense examination of these two broken men. When we see how the remote Shaw opened up with the company of Tom Jordan and his daughter, we understand his pain when he breaks down and cries. When Shaw discovers that Josie and her father are dead, we sympathize with his grief.
In the remake, however, tho brilliantly played by Schreiber, Raymond Shaw remains remote and utterly inaccessible to the audience.
In today's movies people don't matter -- flash and pyrotechnics and noise do. Filmmakers are no longer allowed to spend time with quiet scenes developing relationships and people. The remake is not a bad film but like most of today's films it does not offer any substantive character delineation.
And the conspiracy is a vague, confusing notion that ultimately leaves you asking "what was all that about?"