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The Manchurian Candidate

Movies | In The Manchurian Candidate remake, American corporations are the villains

Issue: "2004 Olympics Preview," Aug. 14, 2004

The Manchurian Candidate, released in 1962, is a Cold War classic. The story of U.S. soldiers brainwashed and then reinserted into society (based on the Richard Condon novel) had both communists and communist hunters, a la Joseph McCarthy, as villains. A senator's efforts to root out communists in the U.S. government are even part of the cover for a communist takeover. Despite this enemy-from-within scenario, the Chinese and Russian communists were still very much the bad guys.

In the new version (rated R for violence and some language), all of the enemies are found on our shores. Gone are the communists, as one might expect in an updated script, to be replaced by-brace yourself-large American corporations! The new face of evil in America is not terrorism but the sinister companies that provide key defense technology and jobs for millions of workers.

Terrorism is not absent in director Jonathan Demme's remake of Manchurian, starring Denzel Washington (in Frank Sinatra's role) and Meryl Streep (filling in for Angela Lansbury). No, terrorism is an important component of the updated plot-because it serves as a tool for corrupt politicians to fabricate fear and eliminate civil liberties. In Hollywood, making a movie more timely and relevant means, essentially, making it more liberal.

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That said, the new Manchurian works pretty well as a thriller. In the hands of the capable Mr. Demme, the remake retains much of the original's paranoia while utilizing some of the best tools of the modern thriller. Mr. Washington is, as always, a convincing protagonist, and Ms. Streep gives Ms. Lansbury a run for her money as an incestuous, creepy mother figure. Had The Manchurian Candidate been rooted more in the real world, instead of the world as Hollywood likes to see it, the movie would have been a worthy successor to a classic.

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