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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.
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.
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!
Political scientists and political film buffs need to watch The
Candidate. It's one of the greatest classic political films ever made.
I've studied dozens of political campaigns, conducted mock elections
during my undergraduate and graduate courses, and volunteered for real
campaigns when I was old enough. This movie is very realistic; the only
other film that comes close in realism is 2015's Our Brand is Crisis.
Peter Boyle is a Democrat campaign manager, and in the California Senate election, the Republican sitting senator Don Crocker is a shoe-in. Whoever the Democrat candidate is doesn't stand a chance, so no one wants to ruin their career that way. Boyle approaches Robert Redford, the son of former Californian governor Melvyn Douglas. He's handsome, charismatic, and has name recognitionbut he's a guaranteed loss so there's no consequence to anything he says or does. With the freedom to run as an honest politician, he becomes a very interesting and alluring candidate.
Even though the movie is about an election, it doesn't take too much of a stand about which party is right and which is wrong. Yes, it's the 1970s and Robert Redford is the lead, so there will be some environmental and "look out for the little guy" messages, but mostly, the film comments on the politics in general. It's really funny and sarcastic in the nicest way possible, and it has one of the most memorable last lines ever!
I really enjoyed "The Candidate" film. I'm not aware of every Robert Redford film but he is very good in this one. The story follows the political campaign of a man who wants to be elected the senator of California. As the character in question, Robert Redford is a Democratic as opposed to his opponent who is a Republican (Don Porter). The inital attempts to win the election aren't very successful, until Redford realises that he can't succeed on his own terms. Eventually, he experiences disenchantment by having to sacrifice his own principles for the sake of winning the election. I won't reveal anything about the ending but you have to see it in order to understand it. The writing is very good and it makes a refreshing change to see an American film from this era that is more thought-provoking than ones that are just violent. I enjoyed the scene with the political television debate, it becomes a bit heated at one stage!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
WHEN ONE VIEWS this film, it is obvious that the spin is definitely
meant to favour the Left, Liberal or now called "Progressives." That is
quite obvious as the starring figure is portrayed by Mr. Robert
Redford, himself. The characterization of the incumbent Senator Jarmon
(Don Porter) is further evidence of our contention.
HOWEVWEE, HAVING JUST watched the movie on Turner Classic Movies, again after some years, we find that although there is this bias in evidence, they did do a good job in at least trying to maintain a high degree of neutrality in their portrayals. It appears that it is all too easy to dismiss this as being so one-sided toward the Left, rather than looking just a little bit deeper into the true nature of the story.
THE STORYLINE, SUCH as it is, follows the path that the young and otherwise naive son of a former California takes in becoming a candidate for the Senate. Bill McKay (Redford) at first begins his campaign as a sort of means of making a point about the present state of conditions in the USA. As he gets deeper into the run, he becomes influenced by the professional political operations of his campaign manager, Marvin Lucas(Peter Boyle), being supported by a fine collection of supporting players (Michael Lerner, Allen Garfield, Quinn Redeker, Morgan Upton, Kenneth Tobey and others).
GIVING WHAT MUST be described as a feeling and look of realism to the production is the inclusion of so many people from the entertainment world and its great subsidiary, the news people. There are also included the cameo appearances by real, true life political figures such as Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern.
IT IS ONLY at Film's end, when with McKay's ultimate victory in the General Election, do we realize what the true meaning of the story really is. And that would be: that the with American tradition of having our candidates vetted by the people, as interpreted by our press, it becomes much more a matter of show Biz, rather than a free exchange and debate of issues,. ideas and political principles.
AND THIS IS a powerful force that will transform people who seek office, whether they want it or not.
NOTE: Bill McKay's final fade out question to his campaign manager of "Marvin, what do I do now?" would appear to be a real, true slice of life. Years later, in 1979, a news camera caught the new Mayor-Elect of Chicago, Jane Byrne, asking the same question of an aid after addressing the press boys on her victorious election night.
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