The Candidate – 1972 – dir. Michael Ritchie
By Paula Delaney
The Candidate is a film that provides the viewer with a window into the background machinations that occur during a political race. Bill McKay, played by Robert Redford, is a young, idealistic and passionate civil rights attorney who finds a great deal of fulfillment in his work helping the disenfranchised. When Marvin Lucas (played by Peter Boyle) enters his life, McKay becomes unwittingly swept up in a campaign for State Senate.
From the outset, it is clear to the viewer that McKay is as reluctant to enter the frenzy of state politics, as he is unprepared. During the course of the film, we watch the “making” of a candidate. McKay abandons
his grassroots endeavors and becomes something of a chess piece that is played by a group of political handlers. McKay is aware of his transformation into a “politician” and suffers from varying degrees of angst about this throughout the film. His wife Nancy (played by Karen Carlson) gets caught in the undertow pulling the couple toward a life of notoriety and glamour. A scene where she is posing for campaign pictures dressed in a riding outfit is a stark contrast from our first introduction to her as an artistic free lance photographer. Life becomes particularly troubling for the candidate when his father, a former governor and the consummate politician, enters the fray and changes their somewhat distant father-son relationship into one of support. To the surprise of his campaign manager, McKay has a great appeal to the voters, mostly due to his youth, looks and charm. His message, which continues to be a passionate articulation of his ideals,usually goes unheard or ignored. Rather, Mckay gets tutored in the artificial nuances of campaigning: how to sit, how to look at an audience, even what tie to wear. The viewer senses an occasional revulsion on
McKay?s part, but the campaign continues ahead at full speed.
The cinematography of this film is first rate. Shots of the convention, rallies and debates are so realistic that they are almost hauntingly familiar. The camera is instrumental in communicating the ambivalence felt by the main character, with effective facial close-ups. As his packaging comes to completion, McKay carries the election, beating an experienced senator Crocker Jarmon, skillfully played by Don Porter. The last scene of the movie is perhaps the most powerful. Rather than being joyous and celebratory in his victory, we see McKay as panicked, furtively trying to get his campaign manager alone. He succeeds and poses an existential question: “Marvin, what do we do now?”. Anyone familiar with our current political landscape will agree that the showing of this film is very timely. And after witnessing the stark realities of political packaging, one may also find this film a bit disturbing.