- Brainwashed and mind-controlled: Denzel chases truth -- and an assassin.
Demme's movie still thrills and chills -- effectively, too, since minor alterations to the plot deposit the movie at an altogether different finale than the one novelist Richard Condon and screenwriter George Axelrod posited. Demme opens his movie during the first Gulf War, as Bennett Marco (Denzel Washington, in the Frank Sinatra role) is leading his platoon into Kuwait during a routine recon mission; among his soldiers is Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber, channeling Laurence Harvey), the aloof son of a powerful conservative senator played by Meryl Streep. In eerie dream sequences that become occasionally grotesque flashbacks, we learn that the squad is ambushed and taken to a faraway base on a remote island, where men in white overcoats treat them to the Clockwork Orange special. Their brains are washed and implanted with mind-control devices that make them do horrible things to their own comrades. Of course, we already know this; we've seen the original. It's how the filmmakers alter the inevitable that makes this Candidate a kick.
When they return to the States, Shaw is a war hero, given the Medal of Honor for saving his squad during the ambush; Marco and the men who survived, especially Jeffrey Wright's disheveled Al Melvin, are racked by nightmares of what really happened. Marco, who's been promoted to major, has become a total disaster, living on nothing but ramen noodles and No Doz, keeping his glasses together with masking tape, and finding no one within the Army to believe his story. The Commies of the original film are now replaced by The Corporation: Raymond's now the pawn of the multinational Manchurian Global. When the time is right, Raymond's switch will be flipped, and the man who espouses "compassionate vigilance" will become someone for whom civil liberties are a thing of the distant past.