The Candidate (1972) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG for language and some mild sexuality
Running Time: 109 min.
Cast: Robert Redford, Peter Boyle, Don Porter, Karen Carlson, Melvyn Douglas, Allen Garfield, Quinn K. Redeker, Morgan Upton, Michael Lerner, Kenneth Tobey
Director: Michael Ritchie
Screenplay: Jeremy Larner
Although decades old, The Candidate still feels more resonant now as the year it was released. In fact, it's a satire so spot-on that it's often hard to distinguish when screenwriter Jeremy Larnar's script is trying to be funny. Yet, it is still funny. We laugh because it is right on the money in the statement that politics corrupts, and that even those who run with the best intentions from the outset still resort to the same tactics and sound blurb spouting in the end. However, The Candidate isn't just a commentary on the seduction of the participants in the race for office, but also on the society that elects the empty suits and phony promises. We don't want the truth, we want BS, and will elect anyone who knows how to look and act when dishing it out.
Redford (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Sneakers) plays a liberal lawyer named Bill McKay, the son of a former Governor who has tried his hardest to get out of his father's shadow and be a decent man. Under the urging of a friend, McKay embarks on the quest to be a California Senator, running against a popular Republican incumbent (Porter) . It would seem like a no-win situation, and indeed, McKay isn't supposed to win. He is told to be as honest and forthright as he likes in the campaign, so that he doesn't have to lose his dignity, but once the ball stats rolling and he makes some headway, the handlers around him begin to slowly alter things about McKay in an effort not to be humiliated, and also make a fighting push to win.
Like another scathing satire of the 70s, Network, The Candidate is a film that doesn't seem so outlandish today -- sadly, it is the way things are. We've seen far worse examples of soulless politicians who will say anything to make the evening news with a new quote or slogan, and some of the behind the scenes shenanigans are very commonplace. It is a very subtle film, never overt in its statements, yet for those intuitive enough to read between the lines, volumes are being said. Redford is a natural as McKay, with the good looks and graces to believe he could be a viable candidate, while director Ritchie (Fletch, The Couch Trip) , who collaborated with Redford once before in their sports movie, Downhill Racer, does a terrific job in keeping the proceedings from becoming too lampoonish.
The Candidate is recommended for all political junkies, and also for fans of Redford in particular. For a thought-provoking and disturbingly real insight into the vapidity of modern politics, this wins my vote, hands down.
©2004 Vince Leo