The Candidate

Dodgy deals and underhanded tactics prevail in this Spanish political thriller

Voters in Spain have become increasingly disillusioned with the state of their domestic politics, which has seen relatively new parties like Podemos and Ciudadanos come to prominence in the past few years. Like many around the world, Spanish director Rodrigo Sorogoyen is angry about the corruption and dishonesty of the ruling class and takes them to task in his new political thriller. Originally released in Spain as El reino (meaning The Kingdom), before being given the ‘worldwide’ English title of The Realm, and now landing in UK cinemas as The Candidate, the title appears to be as slippery as its unscrupulous protagonist.

From the very start The Candidate pitches itself as a fast-paced Aaron Sorkin-esque drama/thriller hybrid, propelled by rapid-fire dialogue exchanges and underscored by a soft, Eurodance score (which does it no favours). It’s a quick introduction to the shady inner-world of regional politician Manuel Lopez Vidal (Antonio de la Torre), an ambitious, slick-suited mover and shaker who is always thinking three steps ahead with one eye on his back looking out for the glint of a blade.

Almost everyone we meet is involved in something they shouldn’t be and fellow party members seem to distrust their own more than anyone else. Promises are made in washrooms and underground car parks, while deals are broken as quickly as they are struck. When a colleague is arrested for money laundering it is only a matter of time before Manuel is caught up in the scandal. He is soon hung out to dry by the rest of the party and turned into a scapegoat, but they have obviously underestimated his Machiavellian tendencies. If Manuel is going down, then he’s taking everyone with him, and he tries every trick in the book to drag them face first into the dirt.

A charismatic performance by the highly regarded Antonio de la Torre (which accounted for one of seven Goyas collected by the film in February) helps to overcome the more incredulous narrative bumps. Given the plot twists and turns its difficult to know whether Sorogoyen wants us to see Manuel as hero or villain. Either way, de la Torre creates a character who is constantly sizing up the moment and those around him to assess his next move. Just when he’s fallen further down the rabbit hole he manages to find a way out and it’s constantly intriguing to see what he might try next.  

Cinematographer Alejandro de Pablo’s hand-held style offers first-hand immersion into this deceitful political world. But despite the egos and arrogance that fill the frame it looks a little too clean and the rawness of the camera movement never gets enough dirt under its fingernails. It isn’t helped by Sorogoyen’s determination to move from drama into thriller mode, making the sequence of events in the final half of the film feel less believable. The more desperate Manuel becomes to come out on top, the further the borders of reality are stretched in order to ratchet up the tension.

Not all of the thriller elements are misjudged, in particular a high-speed chase at night with the car headlights turned off that leads to a tense showdown. The political intrigue of the first half offers more than the thriller tropes of the latter hour, and Sorogoyen returns to solid ground by closing the film with an impassioned speech delivered by tough journalist Amaia (Barbara Lennie) in a final face-off with Manuel. Non-Spanish speakers will find it easy to relate to the universal themes, and while The Candidate doesn’t quite deliver on its promise, there is enough here to enjoy.

The Candidate opens in select UK cinemas on August 2

Steven Sheehan

Updated: Jul 31, 2019

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