For all of Jonathan Demme's formidable skill behind the camera, his greatest talent is his ability to utilize close-ups. His innate humanism, his interest in whomever he films, comes through every time Denzel Washington's anxious face fills the frame in The Manchurian Candidate. This film only works if the viewer feels Marco's anxiety, paranoia, and frustration. Washington communicates these things with the smallest of facial tics and the subtlest shifts in his eyes. Demme's camera captures every moment of a nuanced, controlled performance that keeps the audience with the film, even when it goes into situations where it becomes harder and harder to suspend disbelief. Liev Schreiber matches Washington's minimalist intensity, and he also benefits from Demme's sympathetic, observant camera. Fine turns from Meryl Streep, Kimberly Elise, and the woefully underappreciated Jeffrey Wright all offer up engaging performances that gain from Demme's fearless love of faces. Those familiar with the original film version of Richard Condon's book may be surprised by some of the changes in this version. Demme and his screenwriters have more or less eliminated the black humor of the original, and they have altered some of the film's major plotlines. These changes all work within this film and help allow it to stand up against any comparison with the original. Anybody familiar with Demme's politics will know what he has to say on the subject of the war on terror, but anybody familiar with Demme's films should also be confident that the politics never once compromise or overwhelm the story. The Manchurian Candidate is a well-made, intelligent summer popcorn film anchored by the compelling face of Denzel Washington.
by Perry Seibert review