Starring: Robert Redford, Peter Boyle, Melvyn Douglas
Director: Michael Ritchie
Running Time: 110 mins
The Candidate is an American film about a hip young environmental activist and son of a former US governor who is approached to take on the role of standing as the Democrat candidate for Senate in California, despite the certainty that the Republicans cannot lose the race.
When looking at political machinations and complications, The Candidate is an absolutely fascinating film. Particularly in comparison to the development of US politics in the 21st Century, it portrays the electoral process in intriguing light, made all the better with a great central performance from Robert Redford. The actual events of the plot aren’t quite as engaging, and the film’s satirical humour is a little dated, but it’s certainly a fascinating watch for anyone interested in politics.
Let’s start with the film’s main themes. To an extent, this film mocks the electoral process for being an absolute farce when it comes to such seemingly clear-cut races, to the degree that a party can field a complete nobody just for the sake of it. That’s an interesting line, but what’s most intriguing about this film is in fact its portrayal of the power of momentum in political campaigning, and how that can lead to even the most unlikely outcomes from voters.
Our main character here is a young, free-thinking and anti-establishment political activist. At first, he’s absolutely nowhere in the polls, and is closer to utter humiliation than any sort of public office. However, as the film develops, we get an insight into how appearances, ideas and effective campaigning can twist the tide. As we know, a straight-talking, anti-establishment outsider genuinely pushing his rival all the way isn’t such a far-fetched prospect, and watching this film with the real-world parallels in mind can make for an absolutely fascinating watch.
Beyond the politics, there’s a great central performance from Robert Redford. Although I wasn’t too impressed with a collection of somewhat subdued supporting performances (excluding Don Porter), it’s Redford that really stands out, bringing a brilliant portrayal of a reluctant young man developing significantly into a genuine political force, and having to comprehend the realities that come with the originally impossible prospect of public office, which is great to watch throughout.
Unfortunately, there were also a lot of things about The Candidate that really disappointed me. Whilst its political ideas are fascinating, its satire isn’t quite so powerful. Yes, the humour feels a little dated nowadays, but even so, the close parallels to modern politics mean that it should still be possible to really buy into the humour.
I think a major reason for the satire’s lack of power is the directing. The film is meant to be comedic in its delivery of the political plot, but in truth, its often relatively stale and slow atmosphere don’t really allow that to come off so well, and Michael Ritchie doesn’t do much to give the comedy a chance to really shine.
Overall, The Candidate is the sort of film that any political buff can sink their teeth right into. A fascinating watch with modern politics in mind, as well as featuring a strong central performance, this can be a great movie at times, but its somewhat stale atmosphere and poor comedic delivery make for numerous frustrations throughout, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.0.