Oscar Blindspots: Sleuth/The Candidate

It might be 50 years late, but I’ll be catching up on all the Oscar nominees and winners I have missed from the year 1972 through the month of May

With Sleuth and The Candidate, men who who clamor for control get in way over their heads. While the former is due to their own self-destruction, the latter shows how the system corrupts and stifles individuality.

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Fiction author Andrew Wyke (Laurence Olivier) invites hairdresser Milo Tindle (Michael Caine) to his home. Andrew is aware Milo is having an affair with his wife and wants to discuss the situation. As the day progresses and the men match wits, the meeting turns into a game with potentially grave consequences.

Based on the stage play, this whole film is an opportunity to show the significant gifts of both Olivier and Caine. The festivities play out in real time over two separate encounters. Mankiewicz keeps everything moving forward despite a rather bloated 134-minute runtime. Luckily, every second of the film is these two going at each other.

Olivier is having the time of his life. At the tail end of his peak, the stage veteran relishes the opportunity to have some fun, but imbues the character with unexpected depth. He is much more than the surface-level creep he puts on for the world. Caine is equally up to the challenge. The third character might as well be the house. It is a sprawling estate but plays as much of a role as the two men.

As much as I enjoyed the film, I was hoping for something more. Despite this huge property and talk of all these other characters, the action is so contained. There is no confinement, but a sense of claustrophobia exists anyway. The film is worth watching just to see the pair of actors live it up on screen, but the overall experience left me wanting.

The Candidate
Directed by Michael Ritchie

Political election strategist Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) needs a Democratic opponent to run against popular California Senator Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter). Knowing the election is unwinnable, Lucas recruits Bill McKay (Robert Redford), the handsome, charismatic son of the former governor (Melvyn Douglas). As the campaign trail drags on, the bright-eyed idealist begins to turn into a politician. But what happens if he actually wins?

Redford is an easy protagonist, but his performance runs deeper than what’s on the surface. He understands he can’t be too engaging, so he conveys this likeable blankness necessary for a successful politician. By the film’s conclusion, McKay has lost that youthful glow and spirit. Boyle works more as a facilitator and doesn’t do too much in front of the camera. Ritchie treats every character not name McKay with dismissive disdain. They really don’t matter and so they aren’t given much agency.

Ritchie has this constant murmur of background noise overwhelm the actual message. Two years after M*A*S*H*, Ritchie has an Altman-esque streak he employs to turn the chaos up to 11. After a while, McKay is less important than the things happening around him. The film’s Oscar-winning screenplay knows the magic lies in the gray-area and purposefully says nothing while the quantity of words is high.

A scathing review of the political system and how an honest politician can be dumbed down for the masses, The Candidate is just as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.

Next week: Two very different people go through very different forms of self-destruction in The Heartbreak Kid and The Lady Sings the Blues

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