In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “The Candidate revels in pointing out just how cut throat, corrupt and broken the world of politics is. But it never preaches at the audience telling us how it thinks we should fix these problems.”
“Seriously folks, you better watch your step when he comes out here because he’s a man who shoots from the hip and a man who’s hip when he shoots. Join me in welcoming Bill McKay!”
Good satire can make you angry when it’s made. Seeing the foibles and downsides of society highlighted by being heightened just a little makes it hard to ignore what’s wrong with the world. Great satire can make you really pissed off when you see it years, or decades after the fact, and it only works to show how little things have changed. Or, even more disheartening, how much worse things have become. The Candidate is more than 40 years old at this point, it does a great job of highlighting what was wrong with politics back then, and how little has changed in the years since.
It’s election time, and the Democrats have no one to run for the senate in California. The Republican incumbent, Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter) seems unbeatable. So Democrat big wig and campaign manager Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) decides to go with a real underdog. Bill McKay (Robert Redford) is young, handsome and idealistic. He’s also the son of the state’s former Governor.
Initially, McKay has no interest in running. He figures once he makes all the compromises required to run for major office, he’ll lose any credibility he’d need to actually make a positive change. But Marvin convinces Bill that the fact that he has no chance of winning means he can say and do whatever the wants on the campaign trail. The promise of freedom to push his own agendas to a bigger audience is enough for Bill to enter the race.
The story of The Candidate is nothing new now, and I assume it was nothing new in 1972. An innocent idealist starts out with the best and most honorable intentions. Bit by bit, he abandons certain beliefs to gain more and more of what he increasingly thinks he wants. By the time he realises how much he’s given up, and that he doesn’t even really want whatever the goal is, it’s too late. That wasn’t a surprise. What was a surprise, was how well The Candidate tells that story, and how well Redford brings it to life.
That description makes it sound like a familiar story told in a familiar way. But as I watched this movie, I never really knew which way Bill would go on any issue or when making any big decision. Even as it ends, The Candidate refuses to make it clear to the audience exactly what kind of man Bill has become after the events of the movie. As a satire, The Candidate revels in pointing out just how cut throat, corrupt and broken the world of politics is. But it never preaches at the audience, telling us how it thinks we should fix these problems. It leaves us to agonise over that ourselves.