My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.
We watched The Old Man and the Gun, a tale of musing and mumbling. Thanks Casey. Read about it here.
It was my choice and I decided to stick with Redford. Part of the reason Tim and I do this film club is to try films that we may, at an earlier time in our lives or with infinite choice, have turned our noses up at. Muriel’s Wedding was a revelation when we tackled that last year. Looking through Redford’s filmography there are quite a few examples of that kind of film. Things like Electric Horseman and Out of Africa. We were too busy watching Bruce Campbell and Chow Yun Fat films to worry about that sort of thing thankyouverymuch. Looming large over Redford’s filmography though is The Horse Whisperer. And so this was the week where I almost picked The Horse Whisperer… until I saw that it’s almost 3 hours long.
So instead it was back to slightly more expected territory with 1972’s The Candidate.
It’s Redford, pay attention! I’ve written about him for the last couple of weeks so shall spare you more.
The Candidate and me
I don’t specifically remember hearing about this film before, but the poster looks familiar. All I knew going in is that Redford’s a politician of some kind facing an election battle. There’s a time when I would have lumped that in with the Horse Whisperers and Muriel’s Weddings of the world as something that I’m not that interested in, however there are a couple of notable things that have changed that view. First is, of course, The West Wing. I find it impossible to think of American politics without thinking of Josh, Sam, Toby, CJ, Bartlett et al. They were too good for this world.
Second up is that American politics (and UK too, I’m not just being down on the yanks) is an absolute dumpster fire at the moment. I’m listening to an excellent podcast from some former Obama staffers (effectively the real life versions of Toby, Sam and Josh) that’s giving me a better understanding of how it all works, and with Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential race starting to announce it seemed like a good time for a film about election campaigns. The podcast is Pod Save America, by the way.
The Candidate (1972): Bill McKay is a candidate for the U.S. Senate from California. He has no hope of winning, so he is willing to tweak the establishment. 7.1 stars.
There’s no doubting the veracity of the campaign trail in The Candidate. It was written and directed by people who had worked on election campaigns. A notable scene where Redford is berated by his campaign manager in a grimy public toilet is apparently something that really happened to one of the filmmakers. So far so good.
Redford’s McKay is presented as an idealist. A political outsider (though the slightly estranged son of a political insider). His campaign manager, played by Peter Boyle, sees something in him and convinces McKay to run for the Senate. Both acknowledge that the incumbent will win, but perhaps they can make some kind of an impact…
Over the course of the film McKay’s idealism is slowly replaced by the campaign team’s more glib, soundbite-friendly talking points. And at the end of it all, surprise surprise, McKay ends up winning. So the trajectory is from idealistic no-hoper to identikit politician ground down by the system.
There aren’t really many surprises along the way, and I’m reminded of something I wrote the other week about Redford’s best performances (for me at any rate) being when he is part of a duo. Here he is the centre of it all, and while he’s certainly got the presence to pull it off, his character arc seems a little flat. The early idealism never really rang that true, and so the anchor of the transformation wasn’t in place.
With the announcements of (some) of the Democratic presidential candidates Pod Save America had an interesting discussion about how to answer pundits when asked why your view on a topic have changed. More often than not the reason for the change is likely to be political expediency rather than a long night of soul searching, but generally that’s unlikely to play well with people. I’d just listened to that discussion a day or so before watching this film (I think in this episode), and so rather than see Redford cave to his aides and state that abortion is ‘something that needs to be looked into in greater detail’ (instead of his original more positive response) I’d recommend listening to the pod.
If comments earlier in my life may have made it seem like I was not in favour of The Candidate then I’d like to apologise. I was not as well informed then as I am now, and having examined all the facts can comprehensively state that The Candidate is fine.
The allure of more Redford beckons. Will we have time to tackle some of the longer films? Or will we play it safe? Or will we say screw it, link to Captain America: Winter Soldier and then do a whole MCU rewatch…?