The Manchurian Candidate

The Manchurian Candidate Information

The Manchurian Candidate is a 2004 American thriller film based on the 1959 novel of the same name by Richard Condon, and a reimagining of the previous 1962 film.

The film stars Denzel Washington as Bennett Marco, a tenacious, virtuous soldier; Liev Schreiber as Raymond Shaw, a U.S. Representative from New York, manipulated into becoming a vice-presidential candidate; Jon Voight as Tom Jordan, a U.S. Senator and challenger for vice president and Meryl Streep as Eleanor Prentiss Shaw, also a senator and the manipulative, ruthless mother of Raymond Shaw.


Major Bennett "Ben" Marco (Denzel Washington) is a war veteran who begins to doubt what is commonly known about his famous U.S. Army unit. During the Gulf War, Sergeant First Class Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) supposedly rescued all but two members in his unit, of which Marco was the commanding officer. This made Shaw a war hero, gained him the Medal of Honor, and launched him into a career in politics. One of Marco's former NCOs, Corporal Al Melvin (Jeffrey Wright), contacts him and says that he has had some 'dreams', and mentions himself, Marco, and Shaw inside a big room, with confusing memories of their lost Army unit. He is clearly deranged, but he shows Major Marco some images he has drawn from the dreams, including one of a tattooed woman.

The characters begin to come together in a near-future, dystopian America defined by xenophobia, jingoism, de facto martial law, environmental degradation, and increasing corporate control. Shaw, now a U.S. Congressman, becomes his party's candidate for U.S. Vice President. He is an unexpected candidate, as Connecticut Senator Tom Jordan (Jon Voight) was the leading choice for some time. Jordan is pushed aside by Shaw's mother, Virginia Senator Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep), who convinces the party leaders into nominating her son. An obvious rivalry exists between Eleanor Shaw and Tom Jordan, partly due to a past relationship between Raymond Shaw and Jordan's daughter Jocelyne (Vera Farmiga). That evening, Marco has a nightmare in which he is trapped in a large room, with tattooed women placing large television sets in front of the soldiers, and repeatedly saying, "Raymond Shaw is probably the kindest, bravest, warmest, most selfless human being I've ever known." Meanwhile, Melvin desperately pleads for Marco to help him, but Marco cannot, as he is incapacitated by surgery, chemical infusion, and hypnotism.

After Shaw is nominated, Marco begins investigating what really happened during the war. He finds an implant inside of his back, and, having it analyzed, realizes that it is a nanotechnological experiment dating from the Gulf War, connected with Manchurian Global, an international weapons manufacturer with major political connections, including former prime ministers, trust-fund terrorists, ayatollahs, and the Shaw family. Marco researches Manchurian and finds a person in a photograph whom he recognizes as a scientist from his nightmares. Looking him up, he finds that his name is Atticus Noyle, a genetic engineer and soldier of fortune who once worked for Manchurian Global researching nanotechnology and "memory replacement".

Marco shows this to Senator Jordan, who, although he doesn't entirely believe the story, does realize that there is a strong possibility that Raymond Shaw was brainwashed, and confronts the Shaws about this. When he suggests that Raymond bow out gracefully from the campaign, Eleanor Shaw pretends to think that this is an idiotic ruse to eliminate competition. Taking matters into her own hands, in fear and desperation as the conspiracy is hours away from being revealed, she "activates" her son. In a trance-like state, under his mother's orders, Raymond Shaw calmly drowns Tom Jordan first and then his daughter when she attempts to interfere.

Eleanor Shaw is furious at Manchurian Global because they gave her their word that the brainwashing conspiracy could never have been found out, and while it's true that she was trusted with their technology, they were trusted with her son. As she becomes more and more controlling, it is soon revealed that the Vice Presidential spot is not what she has in mind for her son, but the presidency. On election night, the newly elected president will be assassinated by none other than Major Marco himself, who was brainwashed right along with the rest of his fellow soldiers. With the help of the FBI, Marco arranges a private meeting with Shaw in a school where he was to cast his vote. Marco tries once again to convince Shaw of what is happening to him and that there is a deeper link between them that Manchurian technology has not managed to obliterate. Shaw seems to agree, and gives Marco his Medal of Honor, which he says he does not deserve. Marco takes it, and Shaw receives a phone call from his mother, who wants to talk to Marco. Marco answers it and is "activated" by her use of certain key phrases that are specific to his own personal conditioning.

After Eleanor Shaw activates her son, he becomes helpless and weak. The latent ambiguity of their relationship is revealed when Eleanor kisses him very tenderly on the lips while stroking the back of his neck and gazing at him in a decidedly un-motherly manner. Afterwards they get ready to go to the election party.

Shaw and Marco try to resist their conditioning to remain in a lucid state of mind. At the election night celebration, the newly elected Shaw and Major Marco realize what must be done. Shaw leads his mother onto the stage with him, moving them into the spot where the President should be and blocking the bullet's path. Marco then fires one shot, killing Shaw and his mother as they dance. Just before Marco can kill himself (which had been part of Eleanor Shaw's plan), FBI Agent Eugenie "Rosie" Rose (Kimberly Elise) stops him by shooting him in the shoulder. The FBI covers up Major Marco's involvement, framing a deceased Manchurian Global contractor for the shooting. In the last scene Rosie takes Marco to the compound where he was conditioned, apparently in conjunction with an FBI investigation. Marco now more clearly understands what has happened, and he lets the sea take away a picture of the "lost platoon" along with Shaw's Medal of Honor.


Al Franken makes a cameo appearance as a reporter, while Sidney Lumet, Anna Deavere Smith, Roy Blount, Jr. and Fab Five Freddy make short appearances as political pundits. Roger Corman also cameos as the Secretary of State. Beau Sia can be seen briefly on a TV-screen, as the presenter of a late-night comedy show while Gayle King can be seen on TV-screens several times as the presenter of a political chat show.


Tina Sinatra was a co-producer of the film. Her father Frank Sinatra portrayed Marco in the original 1962 film and owned that film's legal distribution rights into the late 1980s, never re-releasing it during that time. In the original, nationally released during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the premise was based on communists taking control; in this remake, big corporate influence serves as the 'politically correct' evil, a twist to maintain the 'Manchurian connection'. The remake does not follow the original film's plot details on several occasions.


Critical response

The film received mostly positive reviews. Based on 199 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an overall approval rating from critics of 81%, with an average score of 7.1/10. Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 top reviews from mainstream critics, calculated an average score of 76, based on 41 reviews.

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about Streep that "no one can talk about the acting in 'The Manchurian Candidate' without rhapsodizing about Streep (in the role originated by Angela Lansbury). She has the Hillary hair and the Karen Hughes attack-dog energy, but the charm, the inspiration and the constant invention are her own. She gives us a senator who's a monomaniac, a mad mommy and master politician rolled into one, a woman firing on so many levels that no one can keep up — someone who loves being evil as much as Streep loves acting. She's a pleasure to watch — and to marvel at — every second she's onscreen."

Box office

The film grossed $65,955,630 in North America and $30,150,334 in other territories, totaling $96,105,964 worldwide.


2005 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films (Saturn Awards)

  • Nominated - Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film
  • Nominated - Best Supporting Actor (Film) "? Liev Schreiber
  • Nominated - Best Supporting Actress (Film) "? Meryl Streep
2005 BAFTA Film Awards

  • Nominated - Best Actress in a Supporting Role "? Meryl Streep
2005 Black Reel Awards

2005 Golden Globe Awards

  • Nominated - Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture "? Meryl Streep

See also

  • 2004 in film
  • Cinema of the United States
  • List of American films of 2004

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