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THE CANDIDATE is a fascinating piece of work. Viewed this week with
MEDIUM COOL -- Which one poses the greater criticism of television?
MEDIUM COOL soaks in faked realism, THE CANDIDATE does the same. But
they are such different pictures. In the end, CANDIDATE ultimately
forms a more electric and buzzing indictment of Communication Age
politics and it does so at a predictably steep price.
CANDIDATE revels in a backstage, "candid" approach to political procedure. It harnesses a very active camera - moving, zooming, panning. Evidenced immediately in the credit soundtrack, this isn't meant to be a deft evaluation of Americana, it's a mockery. McKay has his sleeves pulled up, he's eating, he's unbuttoned, he's untucked, he's incorruptible. And the picture is presented as such a slick piece of entertainment that it's just about impossible to disagree. Here's the really interesting part. Whether or not CANDIDATE was aiming for it -- was it? -- it shows television as the most formidable political gamechanger in history. So many of the lines tailor to it -- "they" cut your hair. So many scenes are Television Training Camp. There's the self-satisfied shot where the camera pans into the viewfinder of the TV camera while McKay compromises on his crime policy. In essence, CANDIDATE demonstrates a radically different and devolved political landscape than earlier pieces. Is McKay a Jefferson Smith of the 70's? I think he is -- thanks to the script.
This celebrated script. It stacks Politicians against Non-Politicians and has Redford migrate from the former to the latter. And how it abuses Redford! Possibly the best thing about the film is Redford's amicability and his tangible love for filmmaking. Three years after Sundance, he is ready to be cool for the adults. But what about this script they hand him? The liberalism is so piquant that it smells like we would be better off without government. Like politics is somehow more corrupt or convoluted than anything else in the age of television. The one thing it gets right -- accidentally or not? -- is how the equation of celebrity and politics equals power. Towards the end, the script wallows so much in its own sagacity that it is enough to make me seasick. My biggest question is this -- is the ambitious and potent critique of television incidental or not? And another, how connected are Bill and Barack?
Jefferson. Bill. Barack. America evolves, doesn't it?
Jeremy Larner's brilliant, behind-the-scenes look at a modern political campaign and the marketing experts who make them work stars Robert Redford as an anti-politics California liberal reluctantly drawn into a race for the U.S. Senate with the naive hope of actually making a difference. He discovers, too late, that government isn't about issues or representation, but about exposure and packaging, marching bands and American flags; in other words, all the empty flotsam which, years later, now seems to mark the entire political process. The early '70s fashions are badly dated, but the film itself is more incisive than ever, showing how campaign attitudes, and sometimes even the actual speeches, haven't changed at all since 1972. Director Michael Ritchie reinforces the near-documentary authenticity by enlisting celebrities to portray themselves, from Natalie Wood to Mike Wallace. In 1988 the film was named by then Vice Presidential candidate Dan Quayle as a career influence, despite his obviously having missed the point of it entirely.
This film is a masterpiece in lots of ways. First of all excellent screenplay and an amazing supporting cast (Allen Garfield as Redford's ad man and Melvyn Douglas as Redford's father). Robert Redford plays Bill Mc Kay a young lawyer, son of Governor John J. McKay who becomes a candidate for senator. Mc Kay is very sympathetic and handsome too. Robert Redford is really incredible in this film, as an idealistic young lawyer torn between principle and ambition. Bob is definitely one of the talented actors of our time. This film has also a timeless message and should be shown before every election. What is also really very interesting in this film is how Bill Mc Kay evolves and how the political machine changes him. Finally we realize particularly at the end that he's no different from Crocker Jarmon his opponent (the debate scene is brilliantly performed by both actors Robert Redford and Don Porter).Indeed, what Bill Mc Kay stands for, his priorities, his principles will be sacrificed just to get elected as he realizes that he can win. Michael Ritchie does a brilliant job as well directing this film A MUST SEE movie that deserves a sequel.
Robert Redford, reveling in his finest form (as in The Natural, ATPM,
Brubaker & Indecent Proposal) is an idealistic young lawyer, who is
sucked into the vacuum of politics - initially refusing to build up his
profile by taking a free ride on the coat tails of his ex-senator
father. American political films are common, but good ones are quite
rare. This film falls into that latter category. Bill McKay agrees to
run for Senate believing he can remain true to his values - honesty,
realism, ideology, independence and a healthy distrust of policy for
policy's sake. On that basis alone, he is an idiot, as the whole
process predictably obscures his opinions, blunts his marriage and sees
him struggle with compromise.
Mc Kay is rushed around town as the new kid on the block, taking in snatched TV slots, endorsement opportunities, talking with union workers and disenchanted youth along the way. However, 'The better way' is blocked at the outset by the sitting tenant, Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter). As a time-served Mr American and the holder of an office that he feels he deserves just for parking his butt on the seat of history, 'The Croc' is a magnificent enemy. Note the key scene where McKay simply loses patience in a TV head to head with Jarmon. A house of cards seems to fall around his ears and what does The Croc do? Easy - he makes capital out of it in his smug dignified 'I would never stoop so low' brand of schmultz. You gotta love that guy.
The final scene (even though you can guess the outcome of the plot) is a gripper. Mc Kay, among the chaos, manages to get a minute's privacy with Marvin, his overwhelmed agent, who has even combed his beard on the advice of his staff. He simply asks him 'What happens now?'. That left a chill with me when I first saw the film and, on a re-view, the impact is still just as strong. On that basis, 'The Candidate' has stood the test of time as the deep stink of party politics is as rancid as it ever was.
Michael Ritchie is not a director I know much of, aside from his previous Redford collaboration, Downhill Racer, which I thought was average. How nice to be proved wrong, therefore, as this film is definitely a director's badge of honour. It is also extremely well acted across the range. I understand there was talk of a sequel and it is a shame that it never materialized.
This is essentially a story about a young, idealistic lawyer who happens to be the son of the former governor of California and who is tapped to run for the US Senate. Robert Redford does a terrific job in this movie as Bill McKay, the main character who starts out against the political system but eventually is turned into a polished, coached, trained politician once it looks like he has a chance to win the Senate seat. It's amazing how subtle the writers were trying to be here, and less observant viewers may not notice McKay's very gradual transformation from a regular guy who speaks his mind "Every woman should have the right to an abortion" to a slick, smooth-talking politician "Abortion is something that we should study". This story basically illustrates how most people get caught up in the mess that is Washington politics, and turn from young, idealistic people with noble intentions to sleazy, double-talking crooks whose only goal is to get elected or re-elected (the late Senator Paul Wellstone being an exception). The last line just goes to show that your average politician treats Election Night as if it is the end of everything, when in fact it is simply the beginning. A terrific movie, and I look forward to Redford's sequel. 10/10.
This is a film about how power, or its possibility, corrupts. Redford is fantastically subtle, and the film itself feels like a documentary which gives you an inside look into the whole process of 20th century ( and unfortunately 21st also) politics. It is "must see" for anybody who cares about politics, and questions himself on why the path to hell is padded with good intentions.
12. THE CANDIDATE (drama, 1972) Lawyer McKaye (Robert Redford) heads
his own public law firm. He's an idealistic man who comes from a
wealthy-political family. Marvin (Peter Boyle) heads a political
committee looking for a 'young, fresh face'. Though McKaye hates the
political arena, Lucas convinces tells him that he has nothing to lose
and everything to gain. He accepts in the hope of bringing his ideals
to bear. Instead, he is introduced to the subversive political world
and the dark forces lurking beneath its echelons.
Critique: Serio-documentary, 'The Candidate' is one of those films that should be shown to students seeking a political career. Its precise depiction of a 'citizen' turned into a bureaucratic tool is almost too real.
Director Michael Ritche recreates the sometimes absurd, complicated and superficial world of political inner workings to perfection. Robert Redford is perfectly cast as 'wholesome', naive underdog-champion. You can almost feel a 'JFK-like' aura around him.
The film's innovative 'cinema-verite' scenes further reinforces the sense of a documentary. An excellently written, 'illuminating' experience.
QUOTE: Pete: "I saw something up there tonight. Believe me this is effective. You can do it, you can go all the way. Look, you and I know this is all bulls#!t, but the point is they'll believe in it."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For the non-experts, "pezzonovante" is a direct reference to the
Sicilian word used in "The Godfather" to describe a senator, governor,
or any upstarts or ambitious newcomer on the political field
(basically, what Vito Corleone wanted for his son, Michael)
I chose this title because in 1973, the two Oscars for Best Screenplay went to "The Godfather" and "The Candidate". Although they play in different leagues, both screenplays bear interesting similarities through the implicit statements they make about the limits of the American Dream and the ideals that supposedly forged it. Indeed, no matter how charismatic they are, there's something rotten in a country that allows such figures as Michael Corleone and Bill McKay to succeed.
My judgment might be severe but it's a credit to Robert Redford's extraordinary performance. Sometimes, we're put in the electors' shoes and see him like a handsome and idealistic patriot, eager to raise the voice of American social outcasts and sometimes we remember, as parts of the sideshow, that these are the very reasons he was picked by his friend, Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) to represent the Democrat party despite his blatant lack of experience.
And what's the catch for McKay? The film reveals its cynical and interesting premise when Boyle writes in a matchbox his only guarantee: "you will lose". The point of his candidature is not to undermine a Democrat potential leader's career and yet provide a realistic opponent to the Republican, the much popular Crocker Jarmon. The certitude of the defeat is compensated by a symbolical victory: McKay has all freedom to spread his values, share his vision and gain some publicity. Seems like a win-win situation.
McKay accepts, not without reluctance and more driven by the surrounding enthusiasm, starting with his wife who enjoys her new 'first lady' etiquette. But there's something we know about the American political machine, once you put your foot in, there's no way getting back. And the irony with McKay is that his political carelessness and lack of true ambitious will catch the eyes and ears of Democrats, by inspiring a more genuine and less generic form of political expression, precisely what the public needed. "The Candidate" brilliantly points out the effect of good merchandising in politics. Like a product, McKay has the looks, the message and also, the brand.
The name is in fact the film's subplot, involving McKay's father, a not-so popular veteran politician played by Melvyn Douglas. The reporters notice that the father never endorses his son's candidature, but McKay pretends it's a way to assess his independence. However, after a severe drop in polls that would have foreshadowed a total humiliation, McKay wins a debate against Jarmon at the last minute thanks to a genuine reaction rejecting the hypocritical aspect of a confrontation that dodged the real issues. Jarmon is upset, McKay wins, then McKay Sr. blesses him with the greatest compliment he could ever give him "son, you're a politician".
Jeremy Larner, who was a speech writer for the Democrat Eugene McCarthy and then can be trusted in terms of accuracy, wrote the script. It isn't just a fictionalization of a true story but a gutsy political pamphlet that hasn't lost its relevance. And if we don't remember McCarthy, we do remember the former President who hadn't done much for the country, yet compensated his lack of accomplishment thanks to his father's aura, and used Christian idiosyncrasies to please the crowds. Bush Jr. was no less a puppet than McKay, but he won, and the pages he wrote might not be regarded as the greatest chapter of American history.
And since he was elected, I guess "The Candidate" failed as a warning, and this is why I blame the film for not having been more 'thought-provoking' and 'entertaining'. The script was great, the performance of Redford as a man torn between his sincere ideals and his conviction that he's a fraud get thrillingly palpable as the film progresses. Peter Boyle, Michael Lerner and Allen Garfield are absolutely scene-stealing as the show's ringleaders, and Natalie Wood's lovable cameo gave the ultimate touch of authenticity. Apart from that, the result is rather forgettable, lacking that spice we expect from a political satire.
"The Candidate" could have been on the same prophetic wit as "Network", "Wag the Dog" or "A Face in the Crowd" but the film was as frustrating as McKay struggling during his speeches. Jeremy Larner might have won an Oscar, but a Paddy Cheyefsky he ain't. And unfortunately, the real highlight of the film happens to be the ending with the unforgettable "what do we do now?" that leaves Lucas, and the viewers, speechless. The film was so full of awkward painful-to-watch moments (can you imagine anything worse than a politician being speechless?), fitting the film's anticlimactic realism but so frustrating for viewers who expect a few explosive outbursts.
Redford remains an eternal enigma as a man we never quite see what goes on his mind, on TV or during a speech, challenging our patience but not rewarding it until the end, when he's put in the position he couldn't cheat anymore. I didn't know what he was going to do, but I guess I was glad they finally closed that door before we'd know. And that last minute gets me back to "The Godfather", again. The two films had similar opening and ending: one defeat speech from men who hadn't the stuff to 'win the game' and a door closing on the 'winner'.
As if Crime and politics were the two evil twins of power in America, except that the first door was closed on an intimate room while the second left the protagonist with the public. And I'm not quite sure which is worse: fooling the law in secrecy or fooling the public in total openness?
Young Robert Redford, son of a former California Governor Melvyn
Douglas, is a storefront lawyer devoting his time and talent to those
who need his services. Coming from the well to do, Redford can afford
it. A couple of sharp eyed political operatives, Peter Boyle and Allen
Garfield, spot him the way Paul Krichell must have spotted Lou Gehrig
out at Columbia University and scout him like you would a prized first
baseman. A man with no public record and some name recognition, he
might be just the guy to defeat three term conservative senator Don
Redford takes a chance and wins the primary and then he's the candidate against Porter. But he slips more and more into the hands of Boyle and Garfield in order to win. In the end he takes the road not taken by Spencer Tracy in State of the Union.
In many ways this might have been the easiest bit of casting for Robert Redford in his career. His positions as candidate Redford are in no way different than those of citizen Redford away from the movie set. Redford's certainly given enough of his time and treasure to candidates and causes he believes in. I'm willing to bet he's been opportuned many times to go into politics himself and he knows the game and how it's played.
That's what The Candidate is really about, the game and how it's played. Back in the days of the founding of America, the biggest media outlet was the printed word. The political parties of the time, the Federalists and Jeffersonian Democrat-Republicans, had rival newspapers that slung some pretty nasty invective back and forth at each other and the print media held sway for over 150 years. Then radio and then network television supplanted the other and victory went to those who mastered those media. That's what Boyle and Garfield are, spin doctors who know how to use the most advanced communication form of the day. If The Candidate is ever remade the characters of Boyle and Garfield will be those who use cable television and the internet.
My favorite player in The Candidate however is Don Porter as United States Senator Crocker Jarman. Porter modeled his performance clearly on the current Governor of California Ronald Reagan who certainly mastered the media of his day. I think Crocker Jarman was probably Don Porter's career role and should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
Dated though it is because of the advent of cable and the internet, The Candidate if a prime candidate for a remake. Can you see Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio as Bill McKay talking about finding that better way and not quite sure what it is?
Hard to believe a movie about the American political system that was
made 34 years ago remains so relevant.
The opening premise of the movie could be taken from today's headlines. Democratic party operatives need a candidate to run against a popular long-term, Republican Senate incumbent in California. OK, a conservative Republican would not be so popular in California nowadays, but substitute another state and you get the idea.
The Democrats do not expect to win, just to get a candidate to make a good enough showing so that the Republicans are forced to spend money here to defend the seat. There not being any strong Democratic candidates willing to go against this senator, the party operatives recruit a candidate based on his family name and physical appearance.
Robert Reford's character, Bill McKay, is an idealistic public interest lawyer in San Diego who wants nothing of the machine politics that made his father governor of California a generation earlier. Peter Boyle's party insider character appeals to the younger McKay by promising that he will not have to compromise his ideals, and can run on the issues he believes are relevant simply, because they have nothing to lose as the election is already lost anyway.
The story unfolds when Bill McKay needs to ramp up his campaign just to get to the point where his candidacy is credible. Once the campaign gets credible, the political machinery takes over and the ideals suffer.
Other than how little the making of political candidates differs from today, it's amazing to see issues being debated in 1972 that are still part of the debate today (abortion, race, crime, environment, health care, etc.). Very little is said about Vietnam, which is surprising, but to have a movie that names the political parties and addresses real issues in the manner politicians from the respective parties would, shows a boldness no studio would touch nowadays (i.e. Joan Allen's "pro-choice Republican" in The Contender being named vice president by a Democrat, yeah, like that would happen).
See it now, see it 30 years from now, it will still be relevant.
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