Considering the intrinsic geopolitical underpinnings of John Frankenheimer’s 1962 Cold War classic The Manchurian Candidate, not to mention the stellar work by Frankenheimer and his illustrious cast (including Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury, Laurence Harvey and that creepy mustached Manchurian brainwasher), remaking the film for modern audiences seemed like a dubious undertaking. Yet Jonathan Demme – whose last film, The Truth About Charlie, was an ill-begotten update of Stanley’s Donen’s Charade – has crafted an exhilarating, if politically wishy-washy, modern-day reimagining of Frankenheimer’s gem. Demme, working from Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris’ crackling script, continues his career-long obsession with duality by focusing on the character of Ben Marco (a superb Denzel Washington in the “Sinatra role”), a Gulf War veteran who, years later, is still haunted by dreams of ghastly medical procedures involving his combat unit and, specifically, Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber), a clean-cut soldier who was decorated for saving Marco and his men in Kuwait and now stands to become the country’s vice president. Since anyone familiar with the source material knows that a nefarious plot is being orchestrated by Shaw’s cutthroat mother Eleanor (Meryl Streep, decked out like Hillary Clinton), the film, rather than teasing us with the central mystery, primarily focuses on the unhinged mental states of Marco and Shaw – two men struggling to decipher fantasy from reality – and the way in which contemporary politics have become more about sound bites and photo-ops than issues. The original’s evil communists have been replaced by Manchurian Global – an evil multinational corporation, clearly modeled on Halliburton, determined to control the White House – yet, in the interest of not overtly engaging in Republican-bashing, Demme makes the villainous, pro-War on Terror Eleanor a Democrat. It’s a valiant nod toward political even-handedness, but, since the attempt seems disingenuousness (Demme’s film is, even by loose standards, anti-W.), the director comes across as somewhat politically timid. Still, as a taut thriller, not to mention an astute condemnation of our country’s distressing obsession with the politics of image (rather than the politics of content), The Manchurian Candidate is one of the summer’s most scintillating cinematic experiments.