Reel Matt

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The Manchurian Candidate

Film #266


In the midst of the Gulf War, soldiers are kidnapped and brainwashed for sinister purposes.

Year 1, Day 265

BEFORE: Hopefully today’s viewing goes better than yesterday’s - I have no reason to expect otherwise. And that’s good because I’m very excited to watch The Manchurian Candidate. This is the 2004 version (not the 1962 version - both are based of the 1959 novel though) with Denzel Washington (last seen in Unstoppable) and Meryl Streep (last seen in It’s Complicated) and directed by Jonathan Demme who helmed the amazing The Silence of the Lambs. Combine all this talent with an intriguing idea and I’m excited for the possibilities.

AFTER: Scheduling could not have been more fortunate this week as The Manchurian Candidatecomes at the perfect time. Not only is this a great film that I thoroughly enjoyed (and a great way to start a weekend off), but it also brings up several points/elements I’ve discussed in length about other films this week (cinematography key among them) and ties in nicely with the material my contemporary ethics class has been covering.

First and foremost, I’d like to call attention to the story. As I’ll talk about next, the individual components help the film - and in this case make the film - but they all build off the story here. Typical for me, I have not read the novel nor have I seen the 1962 film by John Frankenheimer. However I do know that both the novel and the first film deal with communism and their large influence on politics and government in the Cold War era. Demme’s 2004 film however modernizes the setting and turns the communists trying to take over the United States into a large corporation, Manchurian Global. It’s not a criticism of the earlier works (again, I haven’t read/seen them), but it’s a huge advantage for this film. The modernization makes the film much easier to connect with because this scenario - an incredibly powerful company brainwashing a large group of people to infiltrate the presidency - while not entirely probable, isn’t outside the realm of possibility. It’s a story about patriotism (armed forces fighting in the Gulf War), mystery (who’s brainwashing whom and why), and power struggles (who is in control) - and it’s masterfully told.

Now here’s where the rest of the components come in and what really make this film special. All of the “technical” production elements act as if they are a character in the film. The camera, the sounds, the lighting. It’s not something unique to The Manchurian Candidate - many films have the same high production quality - but it really stuck out to me in this case. Especially the camera work. There was a lot of fluid movements and odd camera angles. Odd not in the sense of not traditional, but odd in the sense of it evokes a feeling of unease. There were dutch angles scattered throughout whose main purpose is to provide a sense of unease, but the rest of the film felt the same way even with level shots. The fluidity and smoothness of the camera movements contrasted with the eerie music and lighting amplifies this disturbing feel and forces you to constantly question what is actually happening on screen. If it weren’t for the cinematography and sound work, the same tone and feel of the film would be absent. The story would still come across and convey the message it does, but these elements do a better job and do so from very early on the film.

The Manchurian Candidate is a fantastic film all around. It’s well-produced but more importantly for the viewer, it has a compelling and intriguing story. I usually find mystery films quite fascinating and this film is a great example of that. Mystery plays a large role but it’s also equal parts thriller and regular drama - something for everyone to enjoy but also not vague or bland to make it boring. I’d recommend getting a copy to watch very soon.

RATING: 5 out of 5