Friday, August 30, 2013

The Candidate: Redford’s Finest?

A cool, laid-back political comedy that turns dark and cold

     Friends have asked, ”Have you seen any good movies this summer?”  Neil and I have had to really think because we can take or leave superhero movies and there haven’t been a lot of compelling indies and we missed Fruitvale Station – our fault since it was at The Esquire for three weeks.

It seems strange to say that “Yes, I’ve seen a really good movie that’s about American politics and it’s as compelling as it probably was when it was released in 1972.”  That would be
Michael Ritchie’s The Candidate starring Robert Redford and Peter Boyle.  

Redford and Boyle in The Candidate
     Bill McKay (Redford) is a liberal public aid lawyer that political handler Marvin Lewis (Boyle) thinks should run as California’s U.S. Senator.  Since McKay can’t win, he reasons that he can be completely honest about what he stands for and what he thinks should be done.  All goes according to plan until Lewis and the handlers begin to prep and massage McKay’s answers and he realizes he does not want to lose overwhelmingly, or at all.  There’s a scene late in the movie when one of McKay’s former co-workers comes up to him after an event and he tells McKay that he knows he doesn’t believe all the crap he’s saying.  McKay, momentarily startled, actually looks and sees him, and then his eyes glaze over and he moves on to the next person in line.  That says everything about how an individual candidate sells out an identity for a win.  It’s more cutting than even the noted last line of the movie, which is ironic, facetious, and searching.

Dexter Joins The Fun On The Campaign Trail
     Redford captures the late hippie glamour about to be corrupted by the media machine, represented by Boyle, in a performance that reveals a frightening hollowness unable to be covered by Streisand’s adoring gaze.  Boyle plays ruthlessness as a smart pragmatist determined to win, but really to destroy. Yes, even the California dream would be the home base for the reactionary movement determined to dismantle the progressive gains of the previous forty years that won the 1980 election.  Intriguingly, Jeremy Larner’s Oscar-winning script shows a Democrat as the one undone, who will eventually somehow lead.  

     It was a great year for actors, which must have been the reason Redford and Boyle were overlooked.  Melvyn Douglas chills as McKay’s reptilian father, the popular, retired Governor that McKay avoids contacting until all seems lost.  McKay's main plank is the environment whereas the incumbent's is the economy.  Add, respectively, healthcare reform and national security to their messages and they could be running today.  However, the differences between this earlier era and the current political climate are (1) the political rivals do not sling mud at each other and (2) a candidate’s understated affair is never made public.  

     Redford has acted sporadically since 1980.  He moved into directing movies very successfully, but more importantly started The Sundance Institute.  Sundance’s importance in developing new, idiosyncratic, independent movie talent cannot be overstated.  It will have a longer lasting impact on American culture than the promises and policies that various political candidates make.

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