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By Christopher Kennedy

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Regardless of whom you favor in this year’s election, “The Candidate” (1972) with Robert Redford is a must-see for political junkies of all stripes. The film follows idealistic young lawyer Bill McKay (Robert Redford) and his reluctant run for the U.S. Senate in California. McKay is up against a strong incumbent, and has little hope of winning, but sees the race as a chance to bring what he considers to be vital issues before the voters. He despises political deals and compromises, but when the possibility of victory begins to overshadow what seemed like certain defeat, his integrity begins to wobble.

The film is a fascinating study of the inner machinations of American political campaigns, as well as a cautionary tale about the difficulty of remaining true to one’s principles and ideals in pursuit of victory. It reveals what it costs – emotionally, morally, and financially – to run for public office in America, and conveys all the doubt, self-deception and growing cynicism of a man who ultimately realizes he has sold out for something he isn’t sure he really wants. The final scene of the film is priceless.

Originally published November 2008

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