How does an idealistic lawyer become a hardened politician? Why do educated community leaders want to become presidents? Robert Redford explores these issues all the way back in the seventies with the Candidate.
Robert Redford plays a young son of a politician. His father was governor of California for many years. He resists political office, choosing instead to work in a small non-profit in one of California’s towns. One night he is approached by Marvin Lucas (played by Peter Boyle in all of his beautiful bald headedness) and asked if he would like to challenge a seat for senate. Marvin assures Bill McKay (Redford) that they will lose. He would just like to put up a good fight. The current seat holder of the Senate is Crocker Jarmon. Jarmon is a weathered politician that stands for tradition and Republican ideals (looking back on this time, it seems that Republican ideals haven’t changed much). McKay forces Jarmon to reflect on his stances on various issues as McKay inches closer to putting up a fair fight. However McKay is becoming hardened by the constant media coverage, political spins on issues, and his own fame. Problems in his marriage show up. He is caught cheating on his wife. He is forced to confront his governor father and pull him into the campaign. He shows signs that one day he will become Jarmon with his double speak, traditional values and horrible allusions to patriotism.
Political movies are always interesting to see forty years after they were made. Attack advertisements, feathered hair and mandatory suits all date this film but not as much as you would think. In fact this movie sheds more light on our current political atmosphere than it did in the seventies. People must morph and soften their edges in order to gain votes. No one can lead a successful campaign, especially now, without changing themselves. I am sure Barack Obama was much more liberal before his first campaign started. But through his vigorous campaigns his actions and ideas changed into things that my mother would be for. I guess this must be necessary, but it isn’t always the best to see. Robert Redford plays Bill McKay with a surprising amount of subtlety. His gradual morphing into a political machine is masterful. He appears at the beginning of the film as a suited hippie. His sideburns are massive, his blazer with jeans combination is egregious and his ideals are years before his time. Slowly but surely the campaign advisors, lead by Marvin Lucas, whittle away at his appearance and eventually his ideals. He still believes in them, but he is finding it harder to express those ideals. This produces in Redford subtle reactions against what Lucas has to say. He laughs inappropriately in front of television segments. He goes off script at the end of a debate to highlight how little they touched on core issues. But the campaign still changes him. He posture is straighter, he wears full suits everywhere he goes and he has insincere interactions in order to get press coverage. These subtle aspects of the character are picked up over a period of time.
Although the film has a lot to say about the lack of real debate in the political arena about real events that take place in a normal person’s life-like unemployment, racial and gender discrimination, and pollution, it sort of throws it in your face and force you to go along with his ideals. This is made apparent in Crocker Jarmon. Jarmon says some horrific things about cutting out welfare, not caring about the environment and reproductive rights. These speeches are made to demonstrate why Jarmon is the ultimate evil in Congress. We are forced to by the script to only ever side with McKay. This makes for a laggy film that doesn’t have a real threat to energize it. Jarmon never stood a chance.