Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Paranoia Reigns in Updated 'Manchurian'

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Paranoia Reigns in Updated 'Manchurian'

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Soergel, The Times-Union

It's 2008 and, as the voice on the airwaves says, the war on terror continues into another year, "with no end in sight."

The terror-alert level's always high, armed soldiers are at subway stops, the United States is making incursions into Indonesia and Guinea, and a huge, influential company, Manchurian Global, seems to be getting its tentacles and no-bid contracts into all of it.

There's another presidential campaign season bubbling along, and a hero candidate is needed. But who will broker that deal? And to what nefarious end?

That's the chilly, provocative setting for this worthy remake of John Frankenheimer's 1962 mind-bending classic, which has been cleverly updated from Cold War to War on Terror, with its pervasive paranoia still intact.

Changes have been made: Some of its surreal touches are played down and the ladies' garden party is gone, as is the queen of diamonds. It's harder to shock us these days; the remake won't be as unsettling as the original was. Not even close.

But the remade Manchurian Candidate still spooks, as Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) films in clammy close-ups and off-kilter angles. He's content to sacrifice big action scenes for a more quietly spooky, pervasive paranoia and, with Denzel Washington in magnetic form getting some classy supporting work from a well-chosen cast, he makes it uncommonly provocative summertime entertainment.

Washington is in Frank Sinatra's role as Maj. Bennett Marco, now a Gulf War veteran who's been having disturbing dreams about an incident in the Kuwaiti desert in 1991. It was an ambush of his platoon that made a decorated hero out of Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber in Laurence Harvey's role), who saved the men and then led them to safety after three days in the desert.

Shaw's gone on to become a rising politician, shepherded on by the icy ambition of his mother, a U. …

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