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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.
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.
*** This review may contain 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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"If nothing counts, then everything does." Michael Connelly
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.
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
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.
"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 ****
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.
*** This review may contain 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
*** This review may contain 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
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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