A Perfect Candidate

A Perfect Candidate (1996)

Sub-Genres - Politics & Government  |   Release Date - Jun 19, 1996 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 120 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Josh Ralske

When a voter describes the candidates in his state's U.S. Senate election with the comment, "Who you gonna vote for -- the flu or the mumps?" you know that state is in big trouble, and that the race is ripe for a documentary. This record of the 1994 Virginia campaign between Republican challenger Oliver North and Charles Robb picks up the ball and never drops it, thanks in large part to its extensive access to North's campaign meetings, led by the twin Marks -- Goodin and Merritt, his chief campaign strategists. Goodin is every bit as fascinating as James Carville in The War Room. For an experienced pol with a skeleton in his closet, Goodin, who was fired from the Republican National Committee in 1989 for suggesting that a prominent Democratic congressman was gay (an act which earned a denunciation from even Lee Atwater), is remarkably candid on camera about the way the political process works. While he sees North as "the triumph of anger in politics," running him as a pious Washington outsider and attacking Robb on character issues, he's dismayed when an election night poll suggests North's defeat (in a year when Republicans picked up nine Senate seats) was largely due to the public's mistrust of a man convicted of lying to Congress. A chastened (if hypocritical) Goodin swears that night to the press that North's defeat was "the triumph of negative politics." The other fascinating figure here is Washington Post political reporter Don Baker, who at the outset of the campaign sees North as a demagogue but comes around somewhat on him, if only because North does seem to stand for something as opposed to the waffling Robb. In one of the film's best scenes, Baker finds it impossible to pin down the incumbent on an important labor issue and finally turns to a colleague in exasperation to ask, "Will you translate that for me later?" The title refers to a speech made late in the campaign by a black minister to his congregation, who, like the voter quoted above, are well aware of the choice facing them election day. The preacher's rationale for voting for Robb is that there is no such thing as a perfect candidate any more than there is a perfect church. It's a privileged moment in a film packed with them; this is without a doubt one of the most astute portraits of the modern political process ever filmed.