The Candidate is a tense, cynical and angry film.
Manuel Lopez Vidal (Antonio de la Torre) is an up-and-coming regional political player. His skill as a party fixer has put him on a fast track to the top on the national stage.
The film opens up about the way things unfold in political spheres, working as a wake-up call for dirty political schemes. It is a character study that exposes a shamelessly corrupt and tenacious snob.
Recordings of compromising phone conversations are leaked. Suddenly the easy life of the politician is jeopardised by an investigation that can send him to jail.
He would’ve been happy to remain a useful cog in a dirty machine. But we come to share the “arrogant bastard’s” bitter goals. Shunned by his party and former cronies, all of whom are complicit in the corruption, he decides to take revenge.
This doesn’t particularly cover new ground in the shadier tactics of politicians. But it is very well acted, and well-meaning and pointed in its efforts to denounce obsession for power.
The sense that government is one big con directing money into already well-lined pockets may not be a full explanation of politics. But it shows much more insight than most news media output.
The movie’s look riffs on the cold, impersonal stylishness of the wealthy and the spaces they occupy. Stark, expensive corporate surfaces reflect only the culture of money. Fancy restaurants and their bathrooms are where politics and bribes are decided.
The film’s glossy sheen is seductive, as is Manuel, even as we know he’s part of the problem. We’re able to simultaneously root for the hero and revel in his downfall.
We are not left simply left cheering the hero—bigger questions are asked, better than many movies are able to pull off.
US cinema in the early to mid-1970s produced a spate of conspiratorially minded thrillers. They tapped into a feeling the state should be mistrusted and was corruptly working against the population.
They tended to end with a sense that there was little you could do.
In recent years European filmmakers have been making movies about political corruption which pose in a way the more interesting question, “So what are you going to do about it?”
The Candidate doesn’t answer that, but it asks it powerfully.