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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!
*** 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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Excellent film where a young, good looking attorney is nominated by the
Democrats for the governorship of California, opposing the Republican
who believes strongly in the typical Republican line of Herbert
The surprise in this film is Don Porter, a veteran character actor of television and the film, who gets the role of his life as the incumbent senator, ready to take on Bill McKay's (Redford)idea of A Better Way with McKay.
Peter Boyle shines as the political operative and we see all the preparations that go into the making of a candidate. We see a candidate who refuses to compromise on his views, while seeing better days ahead.
Only recently does it seem like the political world has been soiled by
entertainment media. HBO's "Veep", created by the satirically minded
Armando Iannucci, is a brutal comedy series that details the day to day
life of the vice president. Don't expect to see an all-American woman
pining for a better America, because you get a narcissist hungry for
power. Netflix's "House of Cards" makes politics seem as dirty as the
crime world, with elected officials offing enemies left and right,
utilizing corruption for the sake of unbridled authority.
In days past, there was something mystical about a candidate the one we loved (not the Nixon of the race) seemed to be a sort of god who could do no wrong. Look at JFK, FDR; they were far from perfect, but their image, their reputation, turned them into unspeakably untouchable icons. But it seems post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, America has turned into a hotbed of negativity. We don't trust our sacred politicians like we used to. And so "The Candidate" is more relevant than ever. In 1972, the U.S. was just starting to turn into a bunch of pessimists. But now, we regard many of our elected officials in the same way we do the villain of a political thriller: evil, devilishly evil. But smart.
"The Candidate" is part black comedy, part political drama, all stitched together by an endlessly scathing screenplay and a finely tuned performance from Robert Redford. It isn't so much an emotional film as it is a witty commentary regarding the election process, and how most candidates go from freshly idealistic to power hungry after a mere few months of campaigning. The film doesn't tap into our fears in the same way "All the President's Men" did, or how "Three Days of the Condor" told us not to trust anyone sitting in office. Rather, it serves as a thought-provoker that makes us wonder if the smiles governmental hopefuls put on display are actually genuine. It's a bleak, bleak, movie, not so much because it is starkly negative but because it prefers to think that getting elected is a popularity contest, not a case of may the best man win.
Redford plays Bill McKay, a 30-ish attorney who, on a whim, decides to run for Senate. Incumbent Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter) is slated to win McKay, you see, has been approached by political specialist Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle), who only wants McKay to act as a Democratic figure, not as serious competition. Jarmon, after all, cannot run unopposed. McKay knows he has little by way of chance, but, knowing he has the opportunity to spread his ideals around the state, does everything he can to potentially find success. And as the son of the former governor (Melvyn Douglas), with, not to mention, good looks that have captured much of the female vote, his possibilities may be stronger than Lucas could have ever imagined. Problem is, if McKay really wants to win, he'll have to, in some ways, trade many of his morals in favor of popularity.
"The Candidate" is filmed as if it were a documentary, following McKay around until his positive nature completely breaks down and sardonic ickiness takes over. As the film begins, he is a charismatic intellect who has a way with words (he is a lawyer, after all). But by the end, he can hardly control himself from laughing attacks when faced with the bullsh-t of a television promotion. The more he campaigns, the more he becomes disgusted with the idea of politics the officials are snakes who know how to manipulate the public. Morals, he finds out, are of little importance to his peers. Sounding good, looking good, speaking well, being agreeable, going against the grain of the now-hated person he's trying to rob the job of those are the things that matter. You can forget about making the country a better place.
Larner's Academy Award winning screenplay hits all the right notes not mean but wicked, funny, but not overtly so. It isn't a comedy as much as it is a drama that realizes how ridiculous campaigning is, and it cackles along with McKay's increasing concerns. There is a great little scene that finds McKay in the back of a limo, reciting old lines from previous speeches. But after each sound bite he makes a sound of disgust, whether it be a gag, a cough, or a scoff. The sequence is subtle, yet it speaks volumes; have we gotten to a point in our election process where a particular quote, a particular fragment of a speech, matters more than the overall goal of a candidate?
The film also contains one of Redford's finest performances, capturing his distinctly everyman appeal while heightening the sly humor he can easily project just by uttering a single line. He is the kind of actor that can deliver a line like "We don't have sh-t in common" and still remain likable; he is the kind of actor that can look unfazed by the presence of a cameoing Natalie Wood and not seem like a complete jerk. In "The Candidate", we don't necessarily identify with him. Instead, we jump onto his back as he maneuvers through the jangling dishonesty of the election process.
Here is a movie more interested in saying something than showcasing how great its actors are, how great its direction is. "The Candidate" doesn't move you; it causes you to think. And as the race for the presidency continually heats up these days, it is compelling viewing that has hardly aged in what it has to say.
The Polished Veneer of Politics has Become Unvarnished Since this
"Insider" Uncovering Circa 1972. It was Much More Interesting, For
Sure, During it's Initial Release (now this stuff is common everyday
knowledge), But that Doesn't Mean that it is Irrelevant or Dated or
The Perfect Casting of Robert Redford as an Idealist Lawyer with No Interest in Politics is Recruited to Run for U.S. Senator and Convinced to do so Because He is Told that He Can Get His Ideas Heard and in The End..."You Lose".
Peter Boyle is Quite Good as the "King Maker" and the Media Machine Behind The Candidate is Convincingly Portrayed. In Fact the Whole Political Scene from the Early Seventies is Given Gravitas by the Screenplay Penned by Former Eugene McCarthy Speechwriter Jeremy Larner, and Received an Oscar for This Work.
Overall, it is a Bit Startling, but Maybe Not, that the Issues Presented in the Campaign are Still Debated and Divisive Today. Also, the Rules of the Game Haven't Changed That Much Either. The Preparation, the Concessions, the Presentation, the Do's and Don'ts are Pretty Much the Same Now as Forty Years Ago.
The Film was a Big Hit, a Liberal Wish Fulfillment During the Nixon Years and the Vietnam Era, but it Wasn't the Electorate or Electrifying Left Wing Candidates that Silenced (at least for a little while) the "Silent Majority". It was "Tricky Dicks" Dirty Tactics and the Cover-up and His Loathsome Vice President's (Spiro Agnew) Corruption.
"The Candidate" is a very simple movie. It follows a guy (Robert Redford) who is running for the Senate and you see him from agreeing to run to his eventual election. Throughout, the guy tries (not always successfully) to keep his idealism but there is a strong push by his handlers to get him to talk more and say less at the same time. This aspect of the story is very believable and this man is, more or less, relatively 'normal' and without any earth-shattering secrets or personal deficiencies. In fact, the film has little in the way of excitement--no 'bombshells', no real controversies--just a look at the political process and the men who handle these candidates. Certainly not a must-see film but well worth your time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was shown this in social studies class in my senior year in high
school decades ago. The liberal teacher used the movie to teach us how
real-life political candidates are developed, and he asked us questions
such as whether debates were truly useful except as publicizing
The story itself: Bill McKay, son of a former machine politician governor of California, is talked into running for the Democratic candidate for U. S. Senator by a campaign manager who has just come off a losing election of another candidate. The manager expects McKay to lose anyway, so he tells McKay to say whatever he wants since it won't make any difference.
But as the campaign goes on, the supposedly strong incumbent is vulnerable after all, and McKay wins the Democratic primary, and there is a serious chance McKay could really win the election. No longer can he just say what his beliefs are; he now has to draw in more voters who don't want a strong liberal. Solution: McKay has to be much more vague in answering questions (as directed by his managers), and to give generalized platitudes even his campaign team laugh at. He talks about unity and solving problems-but at the same time fails to tell the public what he intends to do about them. He wins anyway-and is confused as to what to do once he has the job.
While it is true that an empty suit can win an election (look at who our current President is), the movie's inherent problem is that the movie doesn't really give a reason that McKay should have won over the incumbent. Longtime incumbents normally lose if demographics change greatly or if they alienate their constituency in some way; the movie depicts nothing of the sort. Also, McKay shows little enthusiasm for running throughout the whole campaign; surely there are others who would have wanted the spot instead? Still, if nothing else, the best part of the story was where the campaign manager is told to take a chair-and he does so, literally.
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