Movie Reviews

Movie Review: The Candidate (1972) – Playing the Game and Selling Out

Written by Jeremy Larner
Directed by Michael Ritchie

We often think that political campaigns where politicians promise all sorts of things and sound great before they are elected then something else happens once they are elected is something new. After watching The Candidate, it would seem that this has been going on for some time.

Bill McKay (portrayed by Robert Redford) is a California lawyer who is roped into running for a Senate seat that he has little hope of winning. He has a political pedigree that appeals to the party and little else. He’s young, handsome, and extremely liberal. He’s not expected to win at all, he’s just filling a slot.

The Candidate shows how McKay decides to run based on ideals and getting his message out, and slowly everything he is passionate about is stripped away. This happens once his candidacy seems to really take hold and his poll numbers show he might actually stand a chance at ousting the incumbent.

It’s the behind-the-scenes of the campaign that made The Candidate so interesting in 1972. People weren’t generally aware of the concept of “spin doctors” and the way a candidate’s image is crafted and sold. It’s all done in a satirical way, but it’s biting because of how true it is, even more so now that we know more about how the public and media are used and manipulated.

Other stories surround the plot. It’s interesting to see the relationship between Bill McKay and his wife, Nancy (portrayed by Karen Carlson). The two seem content with their lot in life. However, once she gets a taste of the time in the spotlight, she seems to change and embrace it and want it more than her husband. McKay is also trying to get out from under the shadow of his father, John (portrayed by Melvyn Douglas). The dynamic that comes into play once Bill’s appetite is whetted in the campaign is interesting to watch unfold.

It’s the satire that makes The Candidate work, and some of the best is at the hands of Peter Boyle as McKay’s campaign manager Lucas. Watching him in the back-room machinations producing what seemingly is impossible to accomplish is a lot of fun. Don Porter as the opposing candidate, Jarmon, is also wonderful as he portrays him as a wise old man to Redford’s upstart youngster. The campaign seems to be based on the generation gap and the tug-of-war that was going on at the time between young and old; the establishment versus the rebellion. At the same time, he’s a full character, rather than being a one-trick pony. He’s a politician who’s had his own disappointments in his career and sold himself out as well.

In fact, much of the platform Jarmon campaigns on sounds no different from the rhetoric they speak now – it would seem little has changed in 35 years. Jarmon talks about letting big businesses do what they want and somehow it would all work out.

The Candidate is not a film people think of when Redford’s performances come to mind, and that’s a shame because it should be. This is one of his finer performances as he takes Bill McKay across the spectrum, starting as an idealistic man who will speak his mind and stand behind his beliefs and turning into someone who will say just about anything to get the vote. The role works well for Redford due to his charismatic personality and looks which serve the part well.

The DVD has a few extras which are all in a slideshow format. There are no futurities or commentary, and that’s a shame. The picture itself is good and transferred nicely. I’m not sure how much work was put into restoring it, I think they just had a pretty good print to work from in the first place.

If you haven’t checked out The Candidate, I would recommend it. Some of the “revelations” are old news to us, but the satire is just as biting and relevant now as it was all those years ago, maybe more so as we head into the next Presidential election.


• Cast & Crew
• Campaign Strategy
• The Campaign Trail
• Awards
• Theatrical Trailer

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