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USA 1972
Directed by
Michael Ritchie
110 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Candidate

In terms of its content and context The Candidate is a rewarding film, in terms of form, less so.

A very handsome Robert Redford (who produced with the director) plays Bill McKay an idealistic young lawyer, the son of a former Governor of California (Melvyn Douglas) who is persuaded by political machinator Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) to stand as the Californian Democratic Senate candidate against incumbent Republican senator, Crocker Jarman (Don Porter). McKay is not interested but when Lucas tells him that, as he is bound to lose,he can say whatever he wants he decides to go along with the proposal, thinking that he will be able to make a difference by telling it how it is. We watch him gradually get worn down to the status of a poster boy with a collection of buzz words.   

Scripted by Jeremy Larner, who was a former speech writer for the left wing Democrat senator, Eugene J. McCarthy, The Candidate is a telling portrayal of the realities of party politics that no doubt would have had considerably more impact in its righteous anti-establishmentarian day than it does now (Watergate was two years away and we all know that democratic politics have been on a slide ever since).

That much is good but Ritchie’s documentary style approach overloads the film with crowd scenes, press scrums and even a motorcade at the expense of any dramatic substance. In this respect later related films like Primary Colours (1998) corrected the imbalance (there is one shot in The Candidate with McKay leaving a hotel room followed by an unidentified female but nothing comes of this). In this respect Karen Carlson as McKay’s wife goes to waste (although the actress had a long career in television, this was the only feature film of note that she appeared in).

Nevertheless, Redford, then, at the height of his career, is charismatic and both as a time capsule and a critical insight into the American political system the film has much to recommend itself.




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