Politic-a-Thon 2: The Candidate Review

Overall I’ve done a lot of modern political films so I think it’s time to go back to the classic political films so for the next two days, I’ll be doing some ones from the 70s, both of which star Robert Redford, today’s film, The Candidate, and All The President’s Men, which will also start another set of reviews looking at Nixon’s presidency. Today though is The Candidate, which I feel is one of the greatest political films ever made.
The plot concerns Bill McKay, the son of a former governor of California picked by the Democrat party to run against incumbent Republican Cocker Jarmon and he accepts, on the condition that he uses the platform to say whatever he wants since, as he knows he’s going to lose, he wants to spread his message. However, later on in the campaign, the numbers come in and predict that McKay will lose by a even larger margin than the Democrats wanted. As a result, his campaign manager forces him to moderate his stance making it so he is able to lose by a less embarrassing margin but he becomes another run of the mill candidate with nothing new to offer. This film brilliant shows the sense of resignation that political candidates have in the later stages of a campaign, mainly with the message of a candidate being taken out of their hands. Throughout the film, we see the growing sense of regret and disappointment in McKay as he is forced to conform, with this being seen clearly through the attitude to campaign adverts as an advert that McKay rejects at the start of the film ends up being used by the end. This all adds up to this cynical attitude that politicians who want to actually do good and change the system will end up losing whilst those who are more safe, predictable and won’t really do anything whilst in power end up winning. This is made most clear at the end as, when McKay unexpectedly wins after going back to his original message during a debate and railing against what he’s been forced to do, ends up asking his campaign manager, ‘what do we do now’ and never gets an answer.

The performances meanwhile are excellent as well. Robert Redford is excellent as McKay, really showing the growing sense of frustration and resignation throughout the film as he is forced to lower his standards in order to appeal to voters along with the crushing of his optimism and ideals in order to appeal to the everyman. Peter Boyle is also great as Marvin Lucas, McKay’s campaign manager who wants to see the Democrats do well in a strong Republican area, showing that, whilst he does want to honour McKay’s wishes to be left to his own devices and do the campaign his way, he doesn’t want to see McKay humiliated which is why he forces McKay to tone his campaign down and, at the end, he shows that he has no idea what to do after he got a candidate to win. Melvyn Douglas meanwhile does a great job as McKay’s dad, the former governor of California, showing a great deal of respect for his son, honouring his wishes to stay out of the campaign but also showing that he wants his son to run on his own ideals, as shown by him congratulating McKay after he goes against the message he was forced to sell in the debates. Karen Carlson meanwhile has great chemistry with Redford as McKay’s wife, showing that she wants her husband to win but also doesn’t fully understand him, as shown by her inviting people to their house to campaign, going against his wishes, but she shows that she is doing this out of a belief that she is helping McKay. The other actors in the film, Don Porter, Allen Garfield and Quinn Redecker, give great performances but the focus is always kept on Redford’s excellent performance as McKay.

Overall, The Candidate is a brilliant film, showing the innate cynicism in political campaigns and how ideals always fall second to votes and popularity in the political system, boosted by a brilliant central performance by Robert Redford.

My Rating: 5/5

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