Published January 14, 2015
In the midst of the most highly-charged political season in years, a political thriller arrives on the big screen featuring scheming senators, evil big business, a "sleeper agent," a Gulf War veteran and a political convention.
Can it really be a big coincidence?
Yes, say the filmmakers and actors involved in "The Manchurian Candidate," (search) which opens Friday.
"All I can say is, two years ago I wasn’t thinking about that. Events have caught up with the script," Meryl Streep (search), who co-stars with Denzel Washington (search), told FOXNews.com. "It's sort of a synchronicity of events, which is bizarre to say the least."
The film ties handily into current politics. Streep plays a senator whom film critics have likened to Hillary Clinton but who Streep said is more like Karen Hughes, the former adviser to President Bush. The film’s fictional evil corporation, Manchurian Global, seems modeled on Halliburton, the company Dick Cheney headed before becoming vice president. And the 'sleeper agent' is a political candidate — a decorated war veteran hailed as a hero by his fellow soldiers. Sound familiar?
Coincidence or not, the juicy details that parallel real politics clearly tickle the film’s director, Jonathan Demme (search).
"The game we hope people will play — and it’s irresistible — is, 'Well wait, which party is this? And what I like about that is it makes us think about the parties," Demme told FOXNews.com.
The party affiliation of the scheming senator and cohorts is absent, which could be an attempt to be non-partisan or a clever device to raise controversy on both sides of the aisle.
Still, as much as the filmmakers are salivating over their good timing, experts say "The Manchurian Candidate" will not stir up any more debate than other political blockbusters.
"In my opinion, it will have the political impact that 'The Day After Tomorrow' had — a lot of thumb-sucking and not a lot of cultural impact," said Matthew Felling, media director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs.
The original 1962 "Manchurian Candidate," which starred Frank Sinatra, on the other hand, was haunted by unexpected controversy. The film, which includes an assassination, was pulled out of circulation to be sensitive to a nation mourning President John F. Kennedy, who was killed a year later.
In today's Hollywood, though, "Manchurian" is coming out in the shadow of Michael Moore's controversial documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11." In comparison, a political thriller isn't so shocking or influential.
"In the vast recipe of how people are going to vote, you are going to have to put 'Fahrenheit' in there somewhere," said Robert Thompson, professor of pop culture at Syracuse University. "I don't know that 'The Manchurian Candidate' will be like that."
What may hit home with audiences is the film's theme of corporate control over politics. The 'Manchurian' in the film is a mega-corporation that has implanted a brain chip into a young soldier/candidate in order to gain control of the White House.
"We have fun with the notion that in their quest for total control and a total amassing of profits, these companies would go so far as to find the idea of a human being conditioned to never change their mind ... would be an asset to have in the White House," said Demme.
And big scary corporations are exactly the bad guys Americans love to hate, said Felling.
"That is an over-arching concern of a majority of Americans, the role of the corporation — from outsourcing to media cross-ownership to Wal-Mart — in politics," said Felling.
If the film doesn't cause viewers to rethink their politics, it will probably make them more suspicious of big business and entertain them too, said Thompson.
"That's what this type of movie does," he said. "It's playing off emotions and ideas and fears that are in the culture and gives it the full treatment that an action adventure can do, complete with brain chips."
As for the ties to reality, Demme said the movie's release date was picked to avoid the frenzy of politics that will take over the nation in a few months.
"If it came out, say, in the fall, it could get easily lost in the shuffle," Demme said. "Because no movie can compete with the high drama of what's really going on in the world today."