Much like The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer before it, The Candidate finds itself tucked away in the niche genre of light political dramas. Both feature a candidate out of their depth and with no real, passionate desire for the field they find themselves in, but inexplicably ride a wave of popularity closer and closer to their somewhat desired position. Although the Peter Cook starring Michael Rimmer piece elbows much of the drama out of the way for some light-hearted comedic pieces, The Candidate brings us Robert Redford as a disgruntled, impromptu candidate for California’s Democrat Party.
Redford is a convincing lead character, his performance as Bill McKay is one of his more interesting roles to date. He plays a man with a blurry background in politics, a political rally here or a clinic opening there. The Candidate sells itself on the fact that McKay never wanted the position, nor is there any point within the film where he’s truly convincing in his desire to run as a Democrat candidate. He strives to win, not because he believes he has what it takes, but because he doesn’t want to find himself on the receiving end of an embarrassing defeat to Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter).
There are moments throughout that make The Candidate feel like a blur between fictional documentary and energetic political satire. Redford sells McKay as a man dissatisfied with the political system, but lacking in the drive or need necessary to change it. His stony-faced expression in later scenes is haunting, but keeps the narrative and message of the film together very nicely. It’s good to see Redford and director Michael Ritchie stick to their guns, never watering down the message or trying to spin a happy ending. Those final few moments are perfect, the fear in McKay’s eyes, the flummoxed confusion from Peter Boyle’s supporting role as campaign manager Marvin Lucas. The Candidate has all the hallmarks of strong filmmaking, with its cast never letting up for one moment.
Although sticking to its message and never sacrificing the satire, The Candidate ends up sacrificing subplots, supporting actors and scenes that could have packed a punch with a little more dedication and nerve from Ritchie. We see McKay canvassing, winning the support of the people and sticking to his guns, but I’d expected more in the way of seeing him struggle with the expectations of his campaign manager. For a man that enters into the race with the sole aim of losing, he finds himself fighting exponentially hard from almost the very beginning, with no drive or reason for him to do so presented until much later in the film.
A bit sloppy in regard to its pacing, and a little all over the place as it tries to balance conventional political satire with a slew of entertaining lead performances, The Candidate is a solid, entertaining enough time for political junkies and fans of Robert Redford. Far from the most consistent of films, but when Redford and Ritchie come together in unison, you can be sure of more than a handful of charming, engaging moments.