Thursday, June 07, 2007

Conspiracies and brainwashing and incest, oh my!

I'm typically not fond of remakes,* especially when the movie being remade was really good, really distinctive, or really a product of its time. As interesting as it was to see Vince Vaughn play Norman Bates (even more interesting now that he's established himself as a comic actor rather than continuing to take roles in crappy dramas), Gus Van Sant's shot for shot remake of Psycho was pretty much a disaster. Even when filmmakers take a not-so-great movie and try to make it better - Fun With Dick and Jane, anyone? - there usually isn't much success.

All of that is a long way of saying that for me, the deck is stacked against a remake going in. Especially the remake of a movie as good as The Manchurian Candidate. But despite my hesitation, I thoroughly enjoyed the 2004 remake. I don't think it's as good as the original, but it's not bad at all. It utilizes current events in the original film's formula way better than it has any right to, and it fares far, far better than Jonathan Demme's previous attempt at a remake, The Truth About Charlie (a remake of Charade). Also, the casting is dead on. Meryl Streep is clearly - and hilariously - channeling Hillary Clinton, Denzel Washington is reliable as always (seriously - has the guy ever been in anything that he wasn't great in?), and Liev Schreiber manages to be both cold and robotic and and oddly touching. And Jeffrey Wright! His part is small, but he's one of my favorite under-the-radar actors working today, and I love to see him pop up in the most unexpected places (Casino Royale, anyone?).

Demme's technique of having the actors look into the lens is off-putting and unsettling, a perfect effect for a film where many characters are unsure of what is going on in their own minds. And the vagueness of the film's conspiracy actually works to its advantage, allowing viewers to draw their own parallels to the current machinations of the US government.

I haven't seen the original in a few years, so my memory's a bit fuzzy, but I completely forgot about the vaguely not so vaguely incestuous subplot between Raymond Shaw and his mother. Liev Schreiber has chemistry with Meryl Streep that's too good for a mother/son relationship. It's like smoking cigarettes - you know it's quite wrong, but it just looks so good on screen.

I think I'm going to read the book this summer. Cause who isn't up for a little Oedipal Complex action while you relax by the pool in Disney World?

*I should clarify that for me, a remake doesn't include many adaptations of a book that is or practically is public domain (e.g., I don't think Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet is a remake of the 1969 Franco Zeffirelli version), or a foreign film done in another country (Infernal Affairs/The Departed)**, even though in the latter case, the original foreign film is usually better, like with a remake.

**I don't actually think this applies to The Departed. But it is the most well known example of a foreign film remade as an American film of late.

No comments: