If you think the 2008 campaign is setting a high-water mark for cynical politicking and surprising twists and turns, you should revisit Michael Ritchie’s outstanding The Candidate. It may be the best American movie about elections — ever.
Bill McKay (Robert Redford) is a young, left-leaning lawyer and the son of a famous former governor. When a political strategist (Peter Boyle) pressures him into running for the Senate, McKay agrees, on the condition that he’s allowed to speak his mind and fight for the causes he believes in. But as the campaign proceeds — and McKay becomes something of a rock-star candidate — compromises are made, promises are broken, and best intentions give way to the very worst impulses. Written by a former speechwriter for Eugene McCarthy (Jeremy Larner, who won an Academy Award for his efforts) and released in 1972 (the year Redford turned 35), The Candidate has lost none of its bite, verisimilitude, or timeliness. (Bonus fact: The Candidate reportedly inspired 25-year-old Dan Quayle to enter politics.)
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