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In this political dramedy, Peter Boyle plays Marvin Lucas, a political election specialist.  He needs a democratic candidate to run for Senator in California against the incumbent Republican Crocker Jarmon, and selects Bill McKay (Robert Redford), the son of a former Governor.  McKay sees the opportunities to voice his ethics and values, and as Jarmon is fully expected to win, McKay feels able to be honest what he would like to do in the position of Senator, because he knows that realistically nothing he says is going to affect the result of the vote.

However, when predictions show that McKay is not only likely to lose, but to be completely humiliated, Lucas decides to tweak McKay’s message, and to manipulate his words and actions, so that the candidate is more palatable to voters.  As the campaign continues, McKay finds his loyalties and morals compromised, and realises that his message is getting lost in a sea of buzzwords and platitudes.

This film is now 42 years old, but the message is as relevant as ever.  I hesitate to call it satire, as I suspect that a lot of it is actually very close to the truth, and at the root of the film is the question, how much are you prepared to sacrifice what you believe in order to get what you want?

Robert Redford is perfect as Bill McKay – he has the enthusiasm and energy that his campaign plays on, in comparison to the older and stuffier Jarmon (Don Porter).  However, you see the character becoming weary of the machinations of such a campaign, losing his keen-ness and perhaps forgetting what he wanted to run for in the first place.  All of this is perfectly portrayed by Redford.  Also excellent is Peter Boyle as campaign manager Lucas – he doesn’t over play his role, but portrays the tightrope that someone in his position has to walk – between wanting to stay true to the candidate’s values, and wanting to do whatever is necessary to win.

Great support is provided by Melvyn Douglas, as the candidate’s father, and Don Porter as Jarmon.

If you are a fan of political films, or have an interest in politics, then I would highly recommend this film.

Year of release: 1972

Director: Michael Ritchie

Producers: Robert Redford, Nelson Rising, Walter Coblenz

Writer: Jeremy Larner

Main cast: Robert Redford, Peter Boyle, Melvyn Douglas, Don Porter, Karen Carlson

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