THE CANDIDATE (originally released as EL REINO) is a slow burner with executive scandal and corruption at its core. Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s film is a gripping exploration of political power and paranoia.
The Spanish politicians in the film lead lavish lives. From eating fine food to partying on yachts, gluttony is ubiquitous in THE CANDIDATE. As the film progresses, and scandal threatens to disgrace the Party, the reputations of a number of key politicians are threatened. While no one in this film is guiltless, Manuel Lopez-Vidal (played by the flawless Antonio de la Torre), is the party member selected to absorb the blame. Like his associates, Manuel has abused his authority to fund his lavish lifestyle. THE CANDIDATE explores the collapse of Manuel’s respectable front and – with both time and his associates against him – his mission to avoid jail.
Sorogoyen’s film plays with the viewer’s sympathies very effectively by manipulating and questioning our understanding of morality through its characterisation of Manuel. Throughout the film, it is difficult to resist rooting for Manuel’s success. Indeed, Manuel is often positioned as a victim deserving of our sympathy, however, the film never lets us forget Manuel’s culpability and continually asks us to remember the abuses of power.
Like many political thrillers, the viewer must keep their wits about them, or risk being lost in the deception which pervades the narrative. There are many characters in the film and plot strands which do not tie up until the end, which risk causing confusion. THE CANDIDATE is occasionally slow and drawn out but this eventually heightens the impact of the ending. While at times the film’s plot can be a little stretched, is it not unbelievable.
At its close, the film moves from suspenseful political drama to all-round thriller. This is reflected in the shift in lighting and the move to a more stylised visual aesthetic. The last, and best, scene of the film sees Manuel interviewed by the ruthless television anchor (Bárbara Lennie Holguín) about his involvement in the scandal: Does Manuel really want to expose the party, or minimise his own wrongdoing? The emotional release witnessed in this final scene is refreshing, exhilarating, and ensures the film should be remembered as a success.