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The Candidate (1972)
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.
It Doesn't Get Much Worse Than This
If not for some good actors doing their best with a terrible script, this movie would only get one vote. But my oh my what a terrible script. All I could think is that Haggis went and saw Short Cuts and Magnolia and figured nobody else in the world did. During the snowfall scene I was thinking that he must have ran over-budget and couldn't afford frogs because the scene was so blatantly stolen from Magnolia, down to the Aimee Mann sound-alike playing in the background.
So many different things to hate about this movie, but the most obvious is the simplistic view of race relations in America. Quite frankly, I am amazed Haggis ever lived anywhere near L.A. The movie seemed like it was made by a high school student in North Dakota (no offense to anyone from North Dakota, just saying it's quite a ways, culturally and geographically, from L.A.) who decided to make a movie about race relations in L.A. based on what he learned from watching television.