The Manchurian Candidate (2004)


We’ve often been moved by Meryl Streep, not least in the likes of The Hours and Kramer vs Kramer. She has also frustrated us by wasting her abundant talent on trash like The Iron Lady. But I’m trying to think of a film in which I have found her attractive, and none come to mind. Watching The Manchurian Candidate last night, I think I finally found her sexiness.

It’s not an obviously saucy role. She plays an obsessive mother and ruthless senator involved in a scheme to brainwash her son and set him us as President, courtesy of the ultimate coup. She’s a dark, dark villain. She plays Stalinist politics, encourages a corporation to travel to Kuwait to microchip here soldier-son, and then in turn is the source of a reverse-Oedipal dynamic as she seduces her robo-veep in waiting.

Her role is actually rather minor, but it’s still the stand-out. And that takes some doing when you let Washington get double your screen time. Denzel’s just awesome too, of course, and it’s from his perspective of ultimately justified ultra-paranoia that we see this fantastically large conspiracy unfold. Liev Schreiber, similarly, holds his own as the rather simple son. But it’s to Streep that our thoughts return: her rhetoric and slyness that hint inevitably at her involvement in the project before her role and callousness is even properly exposed.

The film otherwise pans out as an average thriller. If you sit back and stay cool then it will deliver kicks in due course. The most thrilling moments naturally defy belief, but hey, this is the movies. Sometimes realism can be swapped for thrills.

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