The Candidate

Synopsis: Nothing matters more than winning. Not even what you believe in.

Bill McKay (Redford), California Democratic candidate for US Senator, a man of integrity and idealism, will now let the great American political machine manipulate him. Because now he’s got to win. This is a sharp insider’s view of how admen, press agents, pollsters and media czars converge on election campaigns.

The Candidate 8.0

eyelights: Robert Redford. the seemingly-realistic setting. the engaging script.
eyesores: the cropped, low-grade picture on the DVD.

Bill Mckay: “So vote once, vote tuh-wice, for Bill McKay… you middle-class honkies.”

I don’t have much to say about ‘The Candidate’ other than I liked it even more than the first time I saw it. It’s a fairly straight-forward film about an idealistic legal aid lawyer who gets sucked into politics by an opportunistic political operative looking for someone to kamikaze against the current incumbent – a Republican Senator of 18 years.

Bill McKay is told that he doesn’t have a chance of being elected, so he decides to use the spotlight to express his views, in a bid to influence the discussion to include more progressive ideas. Little does he know that his voice would end up getting drowned out by the noise of campaigning and his vision edited to fit a certain image.

From the moment that his team’s media adviser pressures him to get a haircut and trim his sideburns, we know that something is going to go awry, that things won’t go as McKay dared hope. But we can’t imagine the extent to which the situation will devolve: eventually, McKay has to compromise not only his message, but himself – to the point of seemingly losing his mind at the absurdity of it all.

Robert Redford is fantastic as Bill McKay. He conveys warmth and intelligence and completely sells the portrait of a man who is more interested in people than in his own prestige or financial success. The moment that we see him hard at work to defend the poor, working overtime but never being happier, we understand what he’s about. And, as the candidate, you can feel his frustration at not being able to connect with people his way, and his disappointment at having to let his minders take charge.

Apparently, if not for Redford’s involvement, this film would not exist: not only did he choose the director and writer, but he ghost-produced the picture, shaping it with his values in mind. He turned to Jeremy Larner, a former political speech writer for Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 Presidential run, to give the script authenticity. I was quite surprised to discover that much of what McKay discusses or warns about is still relevant today, maybe even more so: it’s as if not much has changed in 40 years.

Which makes you wonder where we’re headed as a society, especially in an era where much of the progress that was made in the last 60 years is gradually being eroded by nearsightedness, self-centeredness and a culture of fear. While we’re doing wild, warped circles, disoriented by all the spin, so much damage is being done for what is, ultimately, personal gain – gain that very few of us, or generations to come, will have the opportunity to enjoy.

While I can’t help but wonder if ‘The Candidate’ was meant as a satire, but that its subtle exaggerations are now lost by virtue of now being too close to home (‘Network’ is another such picture, although less subtle in nature), at the very least it can serve as a cautionary tale all the while providing insight in the political machinery that chews and spits out its people like cheap bubble gum. And that’s reason enough to give ‘The Candidate’ a chance; you just might find in it a winner.

Bill Mckay: “What do we do now?”

Date of viewing: October 24, 2012

5 responses to “The Candidate

  1. This is a rare movie: so-so until the last line, then immediately brilliant. I think I’ve had the experience only one other time: sort of disliking Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises until the last page, when it all made sense.

    • Yeah, I agree that that last line makes all the difference in the world. But I don’t find ‘The Candidate’ “so-so” at all until that point. In fact, I enjoyed it more this second time.

      If you want to see a movie that’s totally “meh” until the last few minutes, check out Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’. It’s three hours of “why am I still watching this?” followed by a few final minutes of “holy crap! I get it!”. That was quite something – even if it’s tedious getting there.

      Anyway, thanks for your input rapsheetblog. Lovely to meet you 🙂

      The Thorn

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