(out of 5)
Jonathan Demme once again adapts a popular 1960s movie for the modern age and this time does a much better job than his painful bastardization of Stanley Donen’s Charade (which was retitled The Truth About Charlie). Updated from the Korean war, where the original version had its plot based, this one has Gulf War syndrome sufferer Denzel Washington begin to suspect that there is a plot being hatched by a corporation (cleverly named Manchurian Global) to take over the government with a fellow soldier (Liev Schreiber) whom they’ve put under hypnotic control as their unwitting pawn. Washington’s evidence is merely that he dreams of his days in Kuwait and his visions tell him that he might have been placed under some kind of mind-control himself. He tries to alert the necessary authorities, including Schreiber, but he is dismissed by everybody as a nutcase and gets on the very bad side of Schreiber’s terrifying senator mother (Meryl Streep). It doesn’t have the same impact of the original version, and is sorely missing director John Frankenheimer’s subtle undercurrent of humour (it’s a political conspiracy thriller about brainwashing, surely we’re not supposed to take it that seriously); Streep’s deliciously over-the-top, scene-chewing performance (that she said was inspired by Barbara Bush) is the only indication that a larger-than-life reality is being presented that could very well be closer to the truth than any of us realize. It’s actually a bit scary to see just how appropriate this tale is for America in 2004, forty years after it was originally told. Kimberly Elise is a standout in a supporting role as a kindly woman who believes our protagonist, and Washington himself is more intensely complex than he’s been in quite a while.
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Cinematography by Tak Fujimoto
Music by Rachel Portman
Production Design by Kristi Zea
Costume Design by Albert Wolsky