Friday, November 2, 2012

The Candidate (1972)

American Political Movie #1

Synopsis: Idealistic young punk cuts his hair, puts on a suit, and proves Bill Davis was right all along: bland works.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “While depicting the glamour and excitement that draw unsuspecting individuals into the political arena, The Candidate also pulls no punches in capturing the maneuverings, compromises and ethical betrayals – all in the name of winning.”

What Did I Learn?: The proper response, when asked about abortion is: “the issue deserves further study.”

Really?: 1) Wait – Bill McKay (Robert Redford) runs unopposed in the Democratic primary for a California Senate seat? 2) So, McKay has never held elective office, and has neither money nor big-name endorsements lined up ahead of time, yet he’s a hot commodity because his Dad was Governor? Not sure about that.... 3) Not that many US political campaigns use green and yellow as their official colours.

Rating: Released just before the Watergate scandal forever changed American politics, The Candidate is a good (but not great) film about the growing importance of media consultants, spin doctors, and professional campaign staff. The first half is much superior to the second, and as a comedy, it’s not that funny; as a morality tale, (idealistic man allows himself to be slowly corrupted by the quest for power) The Candidate seems to want it both ways: McKay goes along with his consultants’ advice, but he never entirely buys in to their cynicism, so the viewer isn’t sure how to feel about him. The film’s biggest flaw, however, is that it focuses mostly on McKay (who isn’t that interesting), when it should have made Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle, best remembered as the Dad from Everybody Loves Raymond), the hard-nosed campaign manager, the center of attention. At one point, Boyle responds to one of McKay’s dumb questions with: “it isn’t my job to explain everything to you.” Within the logic of the movie, that’s true, but personally, I’d like to know why you can’t wear a certain tie to a debate, and other wisdom from the black art of politics. 7/10 stars.


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