The Manchurian Candidate is a 2004 American neo-noir psychological political thriller film directed by Jonathan Demme.
The film, based on Richard Condon’s 1959 novel of the same name and a re-working of the previous 1962 film, stars Denzel Washington as Bennett Marco, a tenacious, virtuous soldier; Liev Schreiber as Raymond Shaw, a US Representative from New York, manipulated into becoming a vice-presidential candidate; Jon Voight as US Senator Tom Jordan, a challenger for vice president; and Meryl Streep as Eleanor Prentiss Shaw, also a US Senator and the manipulative, ruthless mother of Raymond Shaw.
Major Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) is a war veteran who commanded a famous US Army raid during the Gulf War. For his role in that mission, Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) was awarded the Medal of Honour for single-handedly defeating the enemy and rescuing all but two of his men.
In a dystopian near-future America defined by xenophobia, de facto martial law, environmental degradation and increasing corporate control, Shaw has gone on to become a famous US Congressman. Thanks to the influence of his mother, United States Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw of Virginia (Meryl Streep), Raymond Shaw is nominated as a candidate for vice president over the favourite, US Senator Tom Jordan (Jon Voight). Shaw is withdrawn, but he opens up to his mother and to his childhood sweetheart, Jocelyn (Vera Farmiga); Jocelyn is the daughter of Senator Jordan.
One of Marco’s former NCO’s, Corporal Al Melvin (Jeffrey Wright), contacts him and says that he experiences confusing memories and “dreams” about their lost army unit. He is clearly mentally ill, but he shows Marco some images he has drawn from his dreams. Marco begins to also have dreams about being captured on that raid, of being brainwashed by scientists led by a mysterious South African man (Simon McBurney), and of himself and Shaw murdering their fellow soldiers. Marco begins investigating what really happened during the war and travels to New York. A woman named Eugenie (Kimberly Elise), an outgoing supermarket clerk with whom Marco interacts frequently, sits with him on the train and ultimately offers him a place to stay.
As Marco investigates, he discovers an implant in his back. Soon thereafter, after a confrontation at campaign headquarters, he discovers an implant in Shaw’s back. After having the implant he took from Shaw analysed, Marco realizss that it is a nanotechnological experiment connected with Manchurian Global, a powerful private equity firm with major political connections. Marco researches Manchurian Global and recognises the South African man from his nightmares as Dr. Atticus Noyle, a former Manchurian geneticist-turned-mercenary. Marco brings his findings to the attention of Jordan. Although he doesn’t entirely believe the story, Jordan confronts the Shaws and suggests that Shaw bow out of the campaign. Instead, Eleanor “activates” Shaw and orders him to kill Jordan. Jocelyn is also killed when she tries to stop an entranced Shaw.
Eugenie reveals herself to be an FBI employee. The FBI has been monitoring the conspiracy for years. The agency found an implant in Melvin, who – like all of Shaw and Marco’s squadmates – died under mysterious circumstances. The FBI arranges a meeting between Marco and Shaw to convince Shaw of his condition. The meeting takes place just as Governor Arthur and Shaw win the White House, and Shaw receives a phone call from Eleanor for Marco. Eleanor, who is deeply linked with Manchurian, uses trigger words to control Marco’s mind, giving him commands to assassinate the President-elect so that Shaw can become President. Eleanor admits to Shaw that she voluntarily gave him to the brainwashers for the good of the country. However, the trauma of Jocelyn’s death gives Shaw the strength to resist the mind control.
At the climactic moment, Shaw deliberately places himself between Marco and the President-elect. As Eugenie rushes through the celebration crowd trying to find Marco, Shaw looks up at the vent where Marco is and gives a nod of clearance to kill him. Shaw then dances with his mother and steers them both into the marked position, where Marco kills both of them with a single shot from his rifle. Marco prepares to kill himself, but Eugenie, who saw Shaw’s nod, arrives and prevents him from harming himself by wounding him with a gunshot.
The FBI frames a deceased Manchurian Global contractor as the shooter. The Manchurian executives watch their entire conspiracy revealed on television but make no attempt to flee, knowing that the truth’s exposure has left them nowhere to run. In the last scene of the film, Eugenie takes Marco to the compound on a remote island where he was conditioned. Reflecting on his time at the compound, Marco proceeds to drop a photo of his Army unit and Shaw’s Medal of Honour into the sea.
- Denzel Washington as Major Bennett Marco.
- Meryl Streep as Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw.
- Liev Schreiber as Congressman Raymond Prentiss Shaw.
- Jon Voight as Senator Thomas Jordan.
- Kimberly Elise as Eugenie Rose.
- Vera Farmiga as Jocelyn Jordan.
- Jeffrey Wright as Corporal Al Melvin.
- Simon McBurney as Dr. Atticus Noyle.
- Bruno Ganz as Delp.
- Ann Dowd as Congresswoman Beckett.
- Ted Levine as Colonel Howard.
- Miguel Ferrer as Colonel Garret.
- Dean Stockwell as Mark Whiting.
- Charles Napier as General Sloan.
- Jude Ciccolella as David Donovan.
- Tom Stechschulte as Governor Robert “Bob” Arthur.
- Pablo Schreiber as Private First Class Eddie Ingram.
- Anthony Mackie as Private First Class Robert Baker III.
- Robyn Hitchcock as Laurence Tokar.
- Obba Babatundé as Senator Wells.
- Željko Ivanek as Vaughn Utly.
- John Bedford Lloyd as Jay “J.B.” Johnston.
- Al Franken as a reporter.
- Sidney Lumet as a political pundit.
- Anna Deavere Smith as a political pundit.
- Roy Blount, Jr. as a political pundit.
- Fab Five Freddy as a political pundit.
- Roger Corman as the Secretary of State.
- Beau Sia (on a TV screen) as a presenter.
- Gayle King (on a TV screen) as a presenter.
- Tina Sinatra was a co-producer of the film. Her father Frank Sinatra portrayed Marco in the original 1962 film and owned that film’s legal distribution rights into the late 1980s, never re-releasing it during that time (although it did air on network television several times).
- In the original, nationally released during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the premise was based on communists taking control; in this remake, big corporate influence serves as the evil faction, a twist to maintain the “Manchurian connection”.
- The remake does not follow the original film’s plot details on several occasions.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Jonathan Demme.
- Producer(s): Jonathan Demme, Ilona Herzberg, Scott Rudin, and Tina Sinatra.
- Writer(s): Daneil Pyne and Dean Georgaris.
- Music: Rachel Portman.
- Cinematography: Tak Fujimoto.
- Editor(s): Carol Littleton and Craig McKay.
- Production: Scott Rudin Productions.
- Distributor(s): Paramount Pictures.
- Release Date: 30 July 2004.
- Running Time: 130 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.