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Best political film ever made
William J. Fickling24 October 2004
I saw this film in 1972 when it came out, and I just saw it again on cable. I am amazed at how prescient this film was. Remember, this was before Jerry Brown, the real life politician most people will think of as a counterpart to Redford's character, had not yet run for governor and was still unknown outside of California. Nixon was still in office and was about to be re-elected by a landslide. Abortion was still illegal in all 50 states, and Roe v. Wade had not yet been decided. The term "sound bite" had not yet been coined. "Spin" was something a washing machine did.

Redford plays an idealistic young storefront lawyer who is persuaded to run for the Senate as a Democrat against a Republican incumbent running for his fourth term. He feels free to speak his mind because he knows he hasn't a chance of winning. His freshness and honesty win over a lot of people favorable to his politics, and suddenly the gap closes. Now he has a chance of winning, but to do so he has to win over the "undecided voters" in the middle of the political spectrum. (Sound familiar? I'm writing this nine days before the Bush-Kerry election, and no one knows who will win.) Guess what happens? Suddenly he's not so fresh and honest anymore. And by the time he finally has a televised debate with the incumbent, he has mastered the art of the non-answer answer, that is, responding to a reporter's question by making a vague statement of his own without ever answering the question.

Fast forward to 2004. The spin doctors now run the show. This film was intended as satire and as a warning. Regrettably, it has become a prediction. 10/10
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Thought-provoking look at politics and media.
MiriamEB6 September 2000
The Candidate, 1972, was a film that really made me think. It takes you through Bill McKay's campaign for California senator - and shows how an idealistic and inexperienced young man gets trapped by the media system. Most plot summaries will tell you that it is about how he gives the political system a kick - but I found that it was really more about how he became lost in it. It seemed that it was more of an 'outside' movie than an 'inside' one - there is always some mystery about what is going on inside everyone's heads. Robert Redford is really very good here as McKay - watch for a speech he makes to himself in the car. Peter Boyle also gave a thought-provoking performance, as Bill McKay's smooth-talking campaign manager. A sad commentary on the way things work. Very relevant. I recommend it for fans of Robert Redford or anybody interested in politics or media. 7 out of 10.
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Not bad
Robert J. Maxwell15 April 2004
Michael Ritchie seems to have this thing for competition -- whether downhill racing, body building, water skiing, or, as here, politics. This isn't my favorite human motive, besting other people, so this one comes as a rather pleasant surprise, laden as it is with more social and political content than the with the details of the quest. I mean -- Redford doesn't even want the office!

"The Candidate" has the appearance of a made-for-TV movie. The credits are presented simply, as in a TV movies. There is no underscore but the music that we hear consists of marches with lots of drums and sometimes one or two instruments hitting clinkers, as they would on a bandstand behind a speaker.

The photography is highly colored and flat, as in a TV movie. Everybody seems to be dressed in suits or riding costumes. They look overly made up, freshly preened and pruned. They drive big new American cars and live in splendidly arid modern homes. In short they appear to lead the kind of lives to which naive screenwriters aspire.

That out of the way, this is a pretty brave movie. It's a story of an innocent and blunt lawyer who become progressively corrupted during the campaign as victory seems more nearly in his grasp and the grasp of his managers. They 86 his sideburns and give him a haircut and put him in expensive suits. Girls love him because he displays such, well, such Robert Redfordness. One guy belts him in the mouth at a rally and I can understand why. All men as handsome as Robert Redford should be illegal.

But he does a decent job in his minimal way. His forte lies in little moves, as when he cocks his head and says quizzically, "Eh"? Everybody else is quite good too, though his wife is mostly decorative. Peter Boyle is fine, and Allan Garfinkle is always believable as a cynical scuzz.

You have to admire the way the script does not spare Redford's character. He may be an idealist at first. What does he think of abortion? "I'm for it." How about property taxes. "I don't know." By the end of the movie he's learned fluent politicospeak. How's he feel about busing? "You can't solve the problems of this country with a bus." (Right.) He knows that he's selling himself out but he wants to WIN.

As the campaign gets into high gear he's late for a meeting with a labor leader, a grizzled Kenneth Toby given to smoking pinched little cigarettes. Everybody in the room is wondering where Redford is, and how he can treat an important man like Toby with such disrespect. And where is he? We see the door to a hotel room open and there emerges a girl so gorgeous that if she were an escort instead of a groupie she'd be extremely expensive. A few seconds later Redford comes out buttoning his jacket.

Nothing much is made of this incident. Boyle watches this parade in the hallway, staring after the girl, but nobody says anything and the scene lasts for only a few seconds. And here is where Ritchie and the writers earn my respect. Think of how easily this very effective scene could have been demolished. Boyle stopping the groupie and demanding to know what's been going on. Boyle admonishing Redford for cheating on his wife -- "If this ever gets out our goose is cooked!" Redford protesting that his private life is his own business.

But none of this happens. Not in this scene or in any of the others in which a piece of character is revealed. Ritchie trusts in the perspicacity of the viewer. He shows us, because he doesn't have to tell us. He figures we're smart enough to pick up this clues by ourselves. Thank you, Mister Ritchie.

We should be grateful to the writer as well, and to Redford's improvisational talents, when, alone in a car's rear seat, half crazed, he mangles the stump speech he's given a thousand times and comes up with a hilarious parody: "The basic indifference that made this country great."

Also admirable is that the movie deals with specific issues -- abortion, busing, unemployment, fire hazard, health concerns -- and Redford is the Democratic candidate while Don Porter is the Republican candidate (imagine actually NAMING the political parties and risking losing half the audience).

Porter comes across like an actor, an old ham of an actor, which suits the part. He's smooth and wily at seducing the public, a kind of Don Juan of the political arena. Ritchie has taken some real chances here. Porter comes up with something like, "Oh, sure, when I was a kid we were all poor too. Why some of us didn't even have our own SOCIAL WORKER."

It took guts to make this movie. And talent to make it so well.
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The Candidate
Malcs22 March 2000
Robert Redford, in one of his unjustly overlooked films from 1972, stars as a lawyer and the son of the former governor of the state of California in an election year where the senatorial incumbent has no competition. Peter Boyle convinces Redford to run, fully expecting and anticipating to lose, therefore being able to run on a platform of pure integrity to show how out of touch the current senator has become. But suddenly the public realizes that some fresh, younger blood with an idealistic eye might be what they truly want rather than another in a long succession of terms by the same old huckster. Melvyn Douglas also stars as Redford's father. Even though this film is almost 30 years old, the Oscar-winning screenplay by Jeremy Larner shows just how timeless the same old issues the candidate has to decide where he stands upon (abortion, the environment, health care) actually are. The script really is eye-opening, because it underlines very well the point that even if, say, Jesus Christ were to run for office today, what He would say is not as important as how and when He'd say it. Directed by Michael Ritchie (Smile, The Bad News Bears, Semi-Tough), one of the few American directors who has been able to successfully show the black humor of the strange, fetid underbelly of competition in this society. Blink and you'll miss Natalie Wood at a fund-raiser. Completely climatized to the Seventies, she looks like Donovan's aide-de-camp.
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Like they say, it's all about politics.
Lee Eisenberg5 December 2005
Robert Redford plays idealistic senate candidate Bill McKay. He's mainly running to bring certain political issues into the open, although he never actually plans to win. But as time goes by, he realizes that whether or not he wins, he might not be able to hold on to his values.

"The Candidate" is one of the many great movies about the world of politics. It holds up as well today as it did in 1972 (maybe even better). Redford gives a solid performance, as does Peter Boyle as campaign manager Marvin Lucas. One of the most insightful scenes is the debate between McKay and his opponent about the issues. A great movie in every way. Look for appearances by Natalie Wood, Groucho Marx, and Howard K. Smith.
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The timeless definitive campaign
jlacerra24 June 2001
This is a truly excellent and overlooked Redford vehicle, and his performance comes full circle. From wide-eyed idealism to resigned cynicism, all the way back to little-boy-lost and overwhelmed. Redford is flawless! Peter Boyle is right-on as the experienced campaign hand. Also it is easy to overlook Don Porter's effortless portrayal of the smooth and experienced incumbent senator, just on the verge of decline. Porter's seamless delivery makes it look easy.

Douglas is also excellent as John J. McKay, Redford's father and the former governor. Obviously a traditional machine politician, and apparently estranged from his activist son for that, and perhaps for other reasons we are left to imagine, Douglas revels in the younger man's initiation to the corrupt world of politics. Catch the hunting scene to illustrate how these two are poles apart.

An intelligent, realistic, and rewarding film about politics, done at a time when folks were perhaps looking for a political fairy tale.
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Well done, still resonates today
oshram-38 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Redford plays Bill McKay, a crusading lawyer who happens to be the son of a former governor of California, a fact he plays down. When incumbent Republican Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter) is running for his umpteenth term in the senate, kingmaker Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) decides to tap Bill as a wild, dark horse candidate. While young McKay is initially suspicious and unwilling, Lucas tells him he can do whatever he likes and say whatever he likes on the campaign trail because no one expects him to win. With that freedom in mind, McKay sets off to run a very different style of campaign.

The acting here is all top notch. Redford, a natural for the cameras, manages to make McKay fairly awkward and uncomfortable in the early going, but as he warms to being what a candidate is all about, he takes to the campaign trail amazingly well. Boyle is also excellent as the kind of old bastard it always takes to win one of these races, the political insider every race needs to smooth over the opposition within the party and crucify those without. Porter is also good as Jarmon, showing a stiff, wooden, conservative incumbent who must have seemed hopelessly out of date in 1972 -- especially considering his dashing, youthful opposition -- but who also sounds oddly like any politician in office today, with his talk of loving America and supporting business.

The movie makes a very keen point about what people have to do to get elected, and we see a slow whittling of McKay's priorities as he must sacrifice his principles one by one in order to get elected. By the end of the campaign, the fresh-faced, honest young man we were introduced to at the start is gone, replaced by a slick image who is all things to all people. To be fair McKay fights this process, but the movie makes a strong point that, simply, this is what is required in order to win. The end note -- McKay asking Lucas "What do we do now?" is both telling and chilling, that even thirty years ago, there was such distrust and distaste for politics and what it did to people (and this was a year *before* Watergate). The Candidate still plays well despite some dated material, and the lessons it offers about politics and what it does to people still apply today. This is a film well worth your time investigating.
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Bill McKay: The Better Way!
tieman6418 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
"If nothing counts, then everything does." – Michael Connelly

Some points...

1. "The Candidate" stars Robert Redford as Bill McKay, a young lawyer who is manipulated into running against the Democratic candidate of California by political election specialist, Marvin Lucas

2. The film highlights how front-running politicians are often groomed by a team of "handlers" and "election specialists". The end result is less a person and more some cookie-cutter "one man for all people" fantasy image. (historically, "young/vibrant presidents" often follow "old/seemingly wise presidents", the public always bouncing from one extreme to the next, forever dissatisfied)

3. The film charts how disillusioned those within the political sphere often become. McKay goes from an idealistic lawyer who fights in the public's interest, to a man who spouts banal slogans and vapid sound bites.

4. How to win an election: have no clear political message. Stick to vague promises and appealing catchphrases. Promise change but specify nothing.

5. The film highlights how in-bred "democratic politics" has become. Everyone's father is in the business, everyone's calling in favours, scratching backs and providing a helping hand.

6. Studies show that, not only do a disproportionate number of sons follow their fathers into politics, but that those sons who lost or were separated from their fathers at an early age, or view their "politician fathers" as failures, often climb higher into power then their parents. There's some seriously warped psychological issues going on there.

7. Those drawn to politics are often those worse suited to the job. Those idealistic few who join for noble purposes, are soon crushed by the system.

8. Politicians: automatons, cult like drones who adopt the speech patterns of those they admire and surround themselves with. Democracy: forever dependent on voter gullibility.

9. After McKay wins the election at the end of the film, he turns to his handlers and says, "What do we do now?" What indeed. If the process of winning an election is so difficult, so time consuming, one imagines that staying in power will become a similarly all consuming and obsessive task. The politician cares not about bettering society, but about doing what is necessary to stay in power.

10. Most social changes, benefits, progress etc, occur despite politicians/politics, not because of it.

11. Politics in the television age: image driven, a circus act, empty spectacle, pure entertainment, voters asked to choose a leader like they choose a detergent brand.

12. McKay's political colours (yellow, green) deliberately revoke the reds, whites and blues of Americana. Only at the end, when he wins and is fully corrupted, does he succumb, his car now draped in reds, whites and blues.

13. Films like this were common in the 70s, many evoking the paranoia of the time period: "The Parallax View", "Three Days of the Condor", "Z", "All The President's Men", "The Manchurian Candidate" etc.

14. French sociologist Jacques Ellul argued in his book, "Propaganda", that it matters little what propagandists stand for or what their ends are (Liberal, Conservative, Republican, Democrat etc), because they are all taking part in an exercise that is fundamentally dehumanizing and anti-democratic. McKay may be a handsome, sympathetic icon of liberalism and virtue, but ultimately this isn't important. McKay and what he stands for will inevitably be overcome by the political machine he inhabits. He's no different from his opponent.

15. Ellul discussed this idea further in "The Technological Society". Here he argues that we are now so obsessed with technology and efficiency — with that one very best way to achieve a predetermined goal — that we have lost sight of our actions and, in a fundamental way, of what it means to be human. This idea is apparent throughout the film, the political campaign run by a hive of specialised robot consultants and a candidate who misplaces some of his humanness once he becomes obsessed with getting his "numbers" to move in the right direction. Poll numbers, soft-money loopholes, attack ads, phone ratings...this is politics meets Game Theory.

16: The religion of the future: the cult of control, of number worship, of data mining, of information gathering. Theory: security equals more data. Reality: Chaos.

8/10 – Excellent. The problem with these films, though, is that we as a modern audience are so aware of the problems, are so cynical towards politics anyway, that these films all amount to wasted preaching. Perhaps the realisation is that it is arrogant to assume that one man, one bill passed by congress, has the effect to instigate meaningful change, especially now that we live in a world where the big social changes seem to occur irrationally, often by accident (a world where a woman like Rosa Parks sitting in the back of a bus ends racial segregation?). One is then forced to make an almost Sartrean leap. If nothing counts, then why enter politics? Which leads to, if nothing counts, then everything does.

Worth one viewing.
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Film for all would be candidates to view
Captain Ken26 March 2002
Anyone thinking of running for public office should view this film. It is primer on how to win a race. Roman Pucinski when he ran for the U.S. Senate in Illinois in 1972 required his staff to view this film. Redford was the candidate we all hope would serve our state. This film should be shown before every election.It has a timeless message
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Timeless political comedy with bite.
jckruize25 October 2002
Unobtrusive, documentary-style direction by the underrated Michael Ritchie lends verisimilitude to Jeremy Larner's witty (Oscar-winning) script. It feels like you're really on the campaign trail with a "pretty-boy" senatorial candidate (played with typically effortless charm by Robert Redford), who can barely keep up with a platform being built on the fly and the relentless media blitz that dogs him every step. Events move swiftly to their inevitable, ironic conclusion, highlighted by one of the best closing lines in cinema history.

Terrific support is provided by character actors Peter Boyle, Allen Garfield, Melvyn Douglas and others, plus a host of cameos by real politicians of the era such as Alan Cranston and Hubert Humphrey. If you want an idea how modern American politics works, this is still a pretty good primer.
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A must for cynics
saccenti1 November 1999
Robert Redford, the idealistic son of a former party machine governor, gets encouraged into running for the U.S. Senate by a coterie of professional handlers. Fascinating film, alternately satiric, cynical, subtle, and ironic. Shot mostly in a documentary style. A must for cynics and/or political junkies; others won't care. A good performance by Redford is complimented by fine work by Boyle and Garfield. Douglas is also great as the candidate's father. One of filmdom's classic closing lines. 2 stars of 4 on a tough scale.
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The Shaping of a Political Candidate
CurtMan@LVCM.com10 November 2004
"The Candidate" is very insightful, very conscientious, and very accurate in exploring the trials, tribulations, and developments in transforming a nihilistic underdog into a popular, contending candidate for the California Senate. It is a good, provocative, and even satiric look at the ups and downs of the political landscape, as well as its many constraints, with political advisers not interested in the candidate's candidness, but rather sealing an election, and this is very fascinatingly and simply laid out in a film that goes "the full monty" in exploring the American political landscape- this is generally a behind-the-scenes development of the political process- from the frequent campaign rallies, to the luncheons and parades, to the advantage of incumbency, to dirty campaign tricks, to critical debates, and finally, to the anxiety, tension, and exasperation of the election. Robert Redford is the character study, playing an aspiring, yet hardly hopeful, son of a former California governor, dashing and articulate candidate for California Senate, Bill McKay, for the Democratic party. His challenger is incumbent Senator Crocker Jarmon, who seems to be the antithesis of all of the charisma, articulation, and humbleness that is McKay, a rather arrogant, prudent, and unappealing candidate, regardless of whether you share his beliefs. I have to wonder- is the film taking jabs at the Republican party- claiming it is apathetic, self-serving, and shadowy, while in contrast the Democratic party cares passionately about the people, contains darling appeal, and considers a "better way" for the people rather than simply winning an election. Perhaps I am finding ways to detract from some clear and distinguished differences between McKay and Jarmon, because of their parties in the film, and perhaps this is because I believe BOTH parties stand for the people, regardless of my political allegiances- whatever; just a curious observation. Robert Redford plays McKay very well and earnestly- really bringing this vivacious and whimsical character to life and shining on the "campaign trail". The screenplay is absolutely brilliant- taking every idea about politics and ingeniously infusing it throughout the many events of the film: a very constructive and admirable endeavor indeed. The music is very patriotic, sentimental, and portentous, really defining the American political spirit, and really pounding on a theme of greatness through victory. This is an extremely well crafted, well scripted, well acted, well directed, and well received, albeit very predictable and incisive, film, exploring the political landscape as verily as I have ever seen a film endeavor in. It's simple, entertaining, and contains some solid education about the shaping of a political candidate, through a hostile, volatile, and demanding political campaign- "The Candidate" is a real winner. ***1/2 out of ****
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Dull Debate about the Politics of Forty Years Ago
James Hitchcock22 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"The Candidate" is a film which has something in common with Sidney Lumet's "Power" from the following decade. Both films look at the role played by political consultants, what would today be called "spin doctors", in the American electoral process, and both were made at a time when there was a popular conservative Republican in the White House, Nixon in 1972 and Reagan in the eighties. (Prior to the Watergate scandal, Nixon was highly popular, as indicated by his landslide win in that year's Presidential election). One difference between the films is that in "Power" more attention is paid to the personality of the spin doctor, whereas here it is the candidate himself who is at the centre.

The film tells the story of a campaign for a Senate seat in California, currently held by another popular conservative Republican, Senator Crocker Jarmon. The Democratic candidate is Bill McKay, an idealistic, charismatic and politically liberal lawyer. Much of the film deals with the relationship between McKay and his spin doctor Marvin Lucas, who endeavours to persuade McKay to tone down his radical rhetoric, especially on controversial issues like abortion and school bussing, and to make himself a bland, centrist candidate, all things to all men.

The script was written by Jeremy Larner, who had been a speechwriter for the liberal Senator Eugene McCarthy during the 1968 Presidential election campaign, so was presumably made with a liberal agenda in mind. It seems, however, to have ended up as one of those films which were ostensibly made from a liberal standpoint but which are just as capable of being interpreted in a conservative, or at least a centrist, fashion. (Others that come to mind include "High Noon" and "Seven Days in May"). Larner may have intended an indictment of the way in which the US political system discourages genuinely radical debate of issues such as poverty and race relations. The storyline, however, in which McKay comes back from a seemingly hopeless position to win the race, could also be interpreted as a warning that the Democrats must abandon radicalism and seek out the centre ground if they are to win elections. (If that was indeed the film's message, it was sadly lost on George McGovern, their candidate for President that year). Of course, Larner had put himself in a difficult position; had he written an ending in which Jarmon won the election, some might have seen this as an endorsement of conservative Republicanism.

The film is made in a rather dry, semi-documentary style, concentrating more on political debate than on personal issues. There is a suggestion that McKay, a married man, may be having an affair with another woman, but this issue is given far less prominence that it would be in most political dramas. The personal relationship which is given most prominence is the rather difficult one between McKay and his more conservative father John, a former State Governor, who is initially reluctant to endorse his son's campaign. McKay is played by Robert Redford, one of Hollywood's most prominent liberals and a huge star in the seventies, but he cannot do much with the role; McKay comes across as little more than a handsome, charismatic mouthpiece for a set of ideas, some of which are not really even his own.

Peter Boyle as Lucas and Don Porter as Jarmon are rather better, but to my mind this is a film which never really comes to life. Some of the issues have a certain modern resonance; many of Jarmon's speeches, for example, would go down well with the current "Tea Party" movement. Overall, however, my impression was that, while "The Candidate" may have been controversial in 1972, today is just comes across as a dull debate about the politics of forty years ago. "Power" has its faults, but it has held up rather better as an examination of the role of the spin doctor. 5/10
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Candidn't who candid
DQGladstone15 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
It's interesting that "The Candidate" starts with a look at the attitudes of the political handlers because they're apparently the motive force in this film. They are (in the film) unscrupulous salesmen who are selling political services. Poor Bill McKay is the cynical son of an ex-politician who thinks he's seen it all but gets suckered and seduced anyway.

That's the disappointing thing about cynicism- a lot of people knock it and try to eradicate it but, as this film suggests, frequently we're not cynical enough. Cynicism kills you while it protects you.

I'm not a politician but what little I know about it, unless McKay's handlers were hired by Crocker Jarmon, they get paid to WIN, not lose. If they WIN, they get hired by someone else, if they LOSE, they don't. So it's in Marvin Lucas' best interests to WIN. When he tells McKay it's alright to lose, he's lying.

Since Marcus came to McKay and not the other way around, (is THAT realistic?) then we have to view him as a sort of political guru-for-hire who spots potential, latent ambition/vanity/hubris (and ability to pay, presumably) and sells the idea of candidacy to the potential candidate.

Unless I missed something, that's not the way it works, but OK.

This is a film that works on the idea that even the most idealistic will be corrupted by the machine, remembering that "...the Abyss also looks into you".

It's been said that no one who WANTS power should be CONSIDERED for power. Too bad it doesn't work that way.

So here we have McKay, the standard "Thanks but no thanks" idealist who is corrupted and suckered despite himself, despite his cynicism. From being his own man, if that's ever possible, we see him start being handled by his new buddies and by his suddenly ambitious wife.

I loved the scene when she says "Ooh, they cut your hair" like it was their idea (which it was) and they were the decision-making parents (which they were). It obviously pisses McKay off because she's so comfortable acknowledging that the handlers are making his decisions for him. She asks him to turn his head so she can see it but he doesn't do it, like an angry child. He's looking at her as if she's trying to decide which roses will look best in the White House garden. As he's struggling with his own latent ambition, he's also observing hers. He's lost control and, struggling to get away from his father's influence, he and his wife are now under the influences of both his advisers and their own life ambitions.

Because really, how long CAN McKay remain an idealistic storefront lawyer? "Growth" is inevitable. The alternatives are stagnation and decay.

Interestingly, besides creating a health clinic or planting some trees, his "before candidacy" character doesn't have solutions for the BIG problems any more than anyone else does. Idealism, yes, solutions no.

And that's the message that Melvyn Douglas gives us. "It doesn't matter". Politics aren't here to save the world, they're an element of it's destruction. We can slow the process down, (MAYBE) but we can't stop it. Like the aging process, you can stay in shape and eat well but you can't make yourself younger. The processes of the world (technology, power, suburban sprawl, etc.) have agendas of their own and we can push them forward but we can't hold them back.

While you're saving the trees, they're killing the whales and when you turn to the whales, they're cutting the trees. When you're saving THIS forest, they're chopping down that one and raising the taxes, starting wars, creating pollution, writing new laws, limiting your rights and hitting you over the head with guns, red tape, inoculations and misinformation. All in "your best interests". Progress will eventually kill us.

So, "The Candidate" isn't about political solutions, it's about the seduction of Power. As McKay looks into Power, Power looks into him. Will he turn into his father, despite himself?

Redford is great in this film, bringing a lot of comedy to a role that greatly needed it. I've always loved that scene where he can't keep from laughing (due to exhaustion) while trying to express his "Point Of View". In his best films, he doesn't forget the comedy.

This is the first time I've seen the film when I'm old enough (97) to realize that he does take a private timeout with that beguiling girl with the glasses.

"The Candidate" is a great film but it isn't prescient. It's a statement of the eternal political process, more or less the way it's always been. "Spin" existed before the term was coined, they just called it something else, like "lying".

In case you care, my favorite parts of "SpyGame" were the parts in the present where Muir was outfoxing the foxes. When RR wants to be, he's one of the best actors around. Funny and smart.

OK and while I'm at it, one of his best-delivered lines ever was in "3 Days Of The Condor":

"It's a great face...but it's never been to China."
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Political world...
jc-osms27 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I recently watched "Downhill Racer", an earlier collaboration between director Ritchie and star Redford and didn't much enjoy it, largely due to a basic disinterest in the lives of Alpine skiers and Redford's rather unsavoury lead character. This scathing and realistic depiction of the US political scene however was much more rewarding allowing both Ritchie and Redford to shine in an excellent drama, making use of a fly-on-the-wall, almost documentary technique to paint a convincing warts-and-all picture of the machinery which it seems is necessary for the candidature of an aspiring US senator.

Being from Britain, of course some of the background and terminology used was slightly foreign, but the film holds up really well on a universal basis, particularly in its portrayal of what we'd now term behind the scenes "spin-doctors" and the fronting of a political machine by a young good-looking idealistic conviction-politician against an old-style right-wing ultra-conservative rival - the parallels between the Blair/Major UK election of 1997 and obviously 2008 Obama/McCain US election, while not exact, are certainly palpable.

I personally rate this as Redford's best ever acting display - he seems an absolute natural as the initially energetic, moral, campaigning, but no-hope candidate, who learns the hard way about compromise, political correctness and above all how the arcane machinery of politics USA actually works. Thus we see him "on the stump" in amusing vox-pops with eccentric or bemused members of the public, cleaning up his physical appearance and generalising his ideals for the sake of bland, voter-friendly rhetoric and even falling victim to the temptations of the flesh to an obsessive female follower, this last point, concisely and effectively made without over-dramatisation (c.f. Gary Hart and of course Pres. Clinton himself) - for sure Redford's McKay character did have sexual relations with this woman, but lives to tell the tale.

Tension is built up as election day looms, and we see McKay starting to break down under the pressure as he resorts to gibberish en-route to a TV studio but by then his on-side advertising campaign, highlighting his good-looks, youthful vigour but playing down his more controversial left-of-centre views, propels him to an unlikely win against his incumbent opponent and by the surprise ending just at the point of victory, the director I think is telling us that the movie is less about the contest than the process itself. A similar ending device was used at the end of "Downhill Racer" but it works far better this time as you genuinely are intrigued by Redford's multi-dimensional character and wonder just what kind of senator he would have made. The absence of a sequel was definitely a missed opportunity here.

A quick word about the ensemble acting - it's uniformly good and verite is reinforced with the appearances of a number of real-life personalities ranging all the way from pre CNN-era TV commentators to Natalie Wood at a fund-raiser, although quite what an uncredited Groucho Marx is doing haranguing Redford in a toilet is anyone's guess.

In closing then a brave, uncompromising, multi-layered and above all entertaining insight into contemporary US politics of the early 70's. Note to self - must re-watch "All The President's Men" sometime soon...
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Great movie, hope they make a sequel some day!
Streetwolf5 January 2006
I finally got to see this movie and I found it very charming.

Quick summary:

Redford plays a semi-serious lawyer Bill McKay whose father was once a governor for California. Now some want him to follow his father's footsteps and become a candidate for senator, but he has a tough rival and his attitude towards it all seems as if he doesn't want to do it, but does it anyway.

Redford is just great in this movie... and very cute! The ending is left just right fora sequel, which I wonder why they haven't made yet.

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A who's who of 1970s politics
Sky Beaver18 November 2007
One of the best movies about politics EVER.

One of the really cool things about this movie is the list of cameo appearances. Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, John Tunney, Gene Washington, Cedric Hardman, Van Amburg, and other notables from California Democratic politics circa 1972 are all in here.

George McGovern reputedly hated this movie. Remember that he was the Democratic nominee for president in 1972. When asked about "The Candidate", he said "I didn't like it, I thought it reflects the darkest side of American politics".

Redford is amazing in this film, as an idealistic young lawyer torn between principle and ambition. Definitely one of the greatest actors of our time.
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Bill McKay, a WASP "pezzonovante" ...
ElMaruecan8223 August 2013
Warning: 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?
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The Game And How It's Played
bkoganbing12 November 2006
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 Porter.

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?
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evonhel23 October 2006
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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In the meanders of an electoral campaign
valadas26 May 2006
This movie gives us a realistic and intense picture of an electoral campaign for the U.S. Senate in all its details, compromises and tricks. It's not brilliant but still good enough. However its weakest part is the main character himself. Glamorous Robert Redford was not the best choice for the role of a sincere and honest politician who tries to make a clean campaign based on the real important political, economical and social issues and who abhors simple propaganda discussions and speeches. The result is that the character he performs appears as not as deep as it should be and not very convincing in his performance as a campaigner. But it is a well made movie after all in terms of images (almost in a documentary style) and the screen-play is rather good and interesting.
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Becomes a classic through the years
isisherbs200024 March 2005
Having just watched this movie again, I realize with despair that it STILL has something valid to say, 33 years later! I think I would have really liked this movie in 1972, I certainly loved it a few years later when I saw it for the first time, but now it seems like an enduring classic. It is shot like a campaign is run - you feel the crushing emptiness of a political campaign, and Redford's frustration with being unable to raise actual issues is palpable. He is a contender mainly because of his looks (and family ties), not because of his beliefs. He has to boil them down to sound bites (not a term in 1972, I don't think) and then give some of them up altogether, all in order to win. The 'voters' don't come off too well, either - they seem like either groupies (young girls or older country club ladies) or disaffected losers. This should be shown in every 8th grade civics class!
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The Candidate
oOoBarracuda21 November 2016
Michael Ritchie directed Robert Redford and Peter Boyle in his 1972 film, The Candidate. The Candidate follows Bill McKay, an everyman who was pushed into politics to dethrone the incumbent senator who many believe has turned his back on the people and is too interested in power. A film that looks a lot like real life, it is difficult to discern whether or not life has imitated art, or the opposite has taken place, either way, The Candidate is a familiar story and one that is a little difficult to visit given the current state of American politics.

Bill McKay (Robert Redford) is a man who is more than happy to continue his quiet life submerged in his civil rights centered law practice. Bill has no interest in entering politics, as his father before him, former California Governor John J. McKay. Strategist Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) sees Bill as a unique opportunity, he sees the possibility of Bill entering a senate race against an incumbent Senator Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter) who has left his constituents disenfranchised as he seems to chase political power for his own gain. Marcus builds Bill's campaign using an interesting strategy; he has convinced Bill that he has no chance at beating the Senator, but will surely win his party's nomination, so, since he has no chance of winning, he can say whatever he wants and is free to shake up the political system on his way to defeat. The plans, however, go astray when the polls favor Bill much more than anyone ever anticipated.

The message of The Candidate is one that becomes diluted the more familiar it becomes. There have been innumerable amounts of "everymen and everywomen" running for elected office and winning that The Candidate, as a pseudo-documentary style film has lost its effectiveness. Certainly, most notably, the election of Donald Trump in 2016, proves without a doubt, that anyone with no political experience can achieve even the highest office in the land. The Candidate "worked" much better at the time it was made, when career politicians were the only ones getting elected office. Robert Redford feels a bit miscast in the lead role that commands a relatable, emotion-filled performance. In many of his scenes, he comes off paper-thin, definitely lacking emotion. Peter Boyle, on the other hand, plays his hopeful, yet controlled reckless attitude incredibly well. Boyle is an actor in which I have never sought out, yet been constantly impressed with every time I've seen his performances. Overall, The Campaign is a good enough film, but one that I wish I could have seen some 30 years prior when it still carried the crux of its relevance.
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Finessing the Down and Dirty
dougdoepke16 November 2015
Cynical young Bill McKay is encouraged to follow his father into politics by running for the Senate against smooth longtime incumbent Jarmon. Against his better judgment, the handsome McKay reluctantly complies.

All in all, the movie shows the road to corruption without the corruption. True, we see McKay (Redford) drawn into the momentum of his Senate campaign under pressures of a large and harried staff. We know his early ideals are being slowly overridden, but crucially we never see the backroom deals that seal a fall from grace. We do see deal-maker Starkey (Tobey) meeting the candidate at a crucial election stage, but what exactly is understood between them is left unseen. Thus this inside look at our political process shows the colorful pomp but without the fateful circumstance.

And show the political spectacle, the movie does, in spades. I don't know how they did the many crowd and rally scenes, but the numbers and enthusiasm are convincing as heck. It's an excellently produced and directed effort.

Redford low-keys it all the way through. As the candidate, he's hardly the effusive glad-hander, but then, with his youthful good looks, he doesn't need to be. It's really Peter Boyle as the savvy campaign manager who projects. We also get a good look at the hectic pace and foul-ups that big time campaigns are subject to. Thus, it's no wonder that McKay slowly succumbs to the pressures of the contest that yield the movie's famous last line.

However, as a down and dirty look at the deal-making so crucial to electoral success, the movie only implies but doesn't show. Instead, focus is limited to McKay's "selling out", despite what he knows about the dirty business and his own better instincts. Thus the upshot amounts to the graphic undoing of one man but not of the process as a whole. Still, it's a very watchable production with lessons even for today.
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insightful writing and good performances
SnoopyStyle28 January 2015
Political operative Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) is looking for a Democratic candidate to oppose popular Republican U.S. Senator Crocker Jarmon in California. He convinces idealistic do-gooder lawyer Bill McKay (Robert Redford) to enter the race in an unwinable race. He offers him an opportunity to say whatever he wants. McKay is the son of former governor John J. McKay (Melvyn Douglas) and becomes the nominee. His campaign is being crushed by the Jarmon machine and he tries to water down his message. He struggles between the same politics as usual and his convictions as the race tightens.

The Watergate break-in happened and nobody cared. The public still has some blind naivety about the world of politics at the time. This movie skewers it with a bit of humor and lots of insight. The shooting style is slightly documentary style. Redford and Boyle are terrific. The writing digs deep and wins the Oscar. It's a great movie about the real political world.
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