The Manchurian Candidate (2004) 4K UHD Review

4.5 Stars Jonathan Demme’s 2004 take on the classic novel and film remains an effective update
The Manchurian Candidate Review Screenshot

Director Jonathan Demme’s 2004 re-imagining of The Manchurian Candidate is an effective update of both the source novel (by Richard Condon) and 1962 film version (directed by John Frankenheimer). The new version effectively transposes the Cold War paranoia of the original telling into our modern era, reflecting the fears and anxiety faced today with the same pathos felt in the earlier tellings.

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Released: 30 Jul 2004
Rated: R
Runtime: 129 min
Director: Jonathan Demme
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Cast: Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Meryl Streep
Writer(s): Richard Condon, George Axelrod, Daniel Pyne
Plot: In the midst of the Gulf War, soldiers are kidnapped and brainwashed for sinister purposes.
IMDB rating: 6.6
MetaScore: 76

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: R
Run Time: 2 Hr. 9 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray
Case Type: Keep case with slipcover
Disc Type: UHD
Region: A
Release Date: 03/19/2024
MSRP: $39.95

The Production: 4/5

Director Jonathan Demme’s 2004 re-imagining of The Manchurian Candidate is an effective update of both the source novel (by Richard Condon) and 1962 film version (directed by John Frankenheimer). The new version effectively transposes the Cold War paranoia of the original telling into our modern era, reflecting the fears and anxiety faced today with the same pathos felt in the earlier tellings. While some contemporary critics and viewers reflexively rejected the new film because it dared attempt to remake a classic, twenty years later, Demme’s choices have arguably been vindicated by the unfolding of history in that time. In Condon and Frankenheimer’s time, the biggest threat was seen as one of external forces seeking to covertly meddle in our country’s affairs. In Demme’s update, the greatest threat might not be a hostile foreign power so much as it might be those with enough wealth and power to game the system to their advantage, something that remains relevant at the time of this writing.

In this updated version, Major Bennett Marco (Denzel Washington, convincing and captivating as a man who is self-aware enough to understand how crazy he sounds) can’t quite shake that something isn’t right about his tour of duty in Gulf War. As the official telling goes, Marco’s unit is ambushed and disabled by enemy forces, until one Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber, an underrated actor doing top-notch work here with a difficult role) saves the day with heroics straight out of an action movie, taking out the enemy and saving the platoon. That matches Marco’s memory, and the memory of the surviving unit members. But more than a decade later, it still doesn’t sit right with Marco. Shaw wasn’t an exemplary soldier before the ambush; he was the son of a prominent politician placed on that unit to build a resume, and there was nothing in Marco’s experience of serving with Shaw that would have led him to believe Shaw as being capable of such heroics. As Marco starts to reconnect with other members of his unit, he’s startled to discover that they all have the exact same recollection of what happened, to the point where they can only speak of the ambush using the exact same verbiage. Something doesn’t pass the smell test. This is all the more alarming for Marco because Shaw is now a Vice Presidential candidate, his entry to the ticket all but secured by his domineering mother, the prominent Senator Ellen Prentiss Shaw (Meryl Streep, brutally effective and all the more disturbing for it). Every day, Marco turns on the TV, seeing the younger Shaw ascending in power, feeling deep in his soul that something is horribly, unspeakably wrong.

Jonathan Demme gathered a top notch group to work both in front of and behind the camera for his version of this story. Part of what makes the film so good is the way that Demme has assembled an incredible group of brilliant character actors, often overcasting small roles with familiar faces in a way that hints at a much larger world than what is simply seen onscreen. When you cast people like Jon Voight, Jeffrey Wright, Bruno Ganz, Miguel Ferrer, Dean Stockwell, Jude Ciccolella and Zeljko Ivanek, the script doesn’t have to do a lot of heavy lifting to tell us who these people are; just seeing the actors grace the screen does that for us. Demme’s frequent cinematographer Tak Fujimoto, shows in every frame why his name belongs on any serious list of the greats. Demme and Fujimoto frequently frame their shots to disorient the viewer, having their actors staring just at or beyond the camera to convey a sense of unease beneath the surface, adjusting their approach as the film progresses to not only show us how unraveled the characters are feeling but to allow us to feel as destabilized as they do. When we eventually find out that Marco isn’t simply paranoid, they don’t allow us to feel that as a relief; the truth is even more unsettling than the lie. Rachel Portman’s score keeps the tension close by, and a remake of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” by Wyclef Jean fits the mood perfectly. The editing, by Carol Littleton and Craig McKay, does a lot to unite all of these efforts into a cohesive whole.

If there is one area that perhaps falls short, it’s in how the screenplay (by Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris) arrives at its conclusion. The first half (maybe even first two-thirds) of the film do such a tremendous job of unsettling the viewer and immersing us into this sense of paranoia that they seem to struggle with how to bring it all to an end. On the one hand, they deftly avoid wrapping up everything with a neat and tidy bow, and rightfully make the point that when groups of people with immense power get caught misbehaving, it is more often than not their pawns that pay the price. And yet, if the ending feels thematically correct, something has been lost along the way, as the film sort of peters out upon reaching its conclusion. The bulk of the film is so thrilling, like a paranoid freight train crashing through your perception of reality, that something about the ending just feels tonally off, as if everyone involved knew what had to happen but didn’t know exactly how to make it to the destination. Greatness was in this film’s grasp, but it falls just short of it in the end. Despite this, the experience of taking this journey with these filmmakers and this cast is so thrilling that it still remains worthwhile viewing.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

Sourced from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, Kino’s presentation of Paramount’s master is top notch. Presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, this is a beautifully film-like presentation that looks and feels like watching a premiere print. There are absolutely no issues with any age-related artifacts, no evidence of wear, nothing out of place, and absolutely nothing to take away from director Demme and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto’s fine work.

Audio: 5/5

The disc’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 track faithfully reproduces the original theatrical sound mix. Dialogue is clearly discernible and mostly confined to the center channel, while the surrounds are brilliantly employed to convey a feeling of the walls closing in. Sit back, turn up the volume, and let the paranoia wash over you.

Special Features: 3.5/5

While Kino has not commissioned any new bonus material from this release, they have included all of the legacy bonus content that Paramount created for the original DVD release back in 2004. There’s not much more that needs to be said beyond what’s included here.

Audio Commentary by Director Jonathan Demme and Co-Screenwriter Daniel Pyne – A nice recollection of the film’s production and technical merits.

The Enemy Within: Inside The Manchurian Candidate – A typical-for-its-era behind the scenes featurette.

The Cast of The Manchurian Candidate – Brief interviews with the film’s leads.

Political Pundits – Longer takes of talking-heads footage seen on television screens within the film, with some prominent commentators of the day clearly having fun pretending to cover the film’s fictional election cycle.

Liev Schreiber Screen Test – Schreiber was clearly the right man for the job.

Deleted/Extended Scenes and Outtakes – Nothing removed from the film is missed, but it’s fun to see what didn’t make the cut.

Theatrical Trailer

Blu-ray Disc – The included Blu-ray disc includes the newly remastered version of the film in 1080p resolution, the same DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, and bonus material.

Slipcover in original pressing – The film’s keep case uses the original theatrical poster art, while the slipcase provides different imagery that also serves the film.

Overall: 4.5/5

Jonathan Demme’s 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate effectively transposes the Cold War paranoia of the original into our modern era, substituting fear of communism for a closer look at a more contemporary threat. Enormously effective and thrilling at times, the film is underserved by a lethargic ending, but is so enjoyable until that point that its shortcomings are forgivable. Demme doesn’t attempt to replace the original film so much as create a companion to it. Kino Lorber’s 4K UHD edition includes a beautifully film-like new master, along with all of the original bonus material created for the original DVD.

 

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Carl David

Supporting Actor
Joined
Jan 17, 2020
Messages
550
Real Name
Carl
High praise indeed.

Might give this another chance because I don't remember much of it from the only time I saw it over 15 years ago or so.

Only remember being underwhelmed especially in comparison to the original.

As someone who thinks Mr Washington is a fine actor will perhaps give it another try and see if my opinion of it is different this time.
 

Wayne Klein

Second Unit
Joined
Mar 9, 2005
Messages
481
It’s a very good remake. I enjoy it quite a bit and Denzel Washington, Leiv Schriber and Meryl Streep are all terrific. Jeffrey Wright gives a great supporting turn as well. I miss Demme. The last third doesn’t hold together as well as the disquieting preceding two thirds but it would have been hard to top that.
 

Wayne Klein

Second Unit
Joined
Mar 9, 2005
Messages
481
High praise indeed.

Might give this another chance because I don't remember much of it from the only time I saw it over 15 years ago or so.

Only remember being underwhelmed especially in comparison to the original.

As someone who thinks Mr Washington is a fine actor will perhaps give it another try and see if my opinion of it is different this time.
It’s worth trying again. It isn’t the first film nor does it try to be telling the story within a modern context.
 
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