Robert Redford did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying William 'Bill' McKay in The Candidate.
Robert Redford seems as appropriate of an actor as one could imagine to play the role of Bill McKay since Redford already has the look of politician to begin with. The film does not start with Bill McKay as a politician though as he is at first recruited for the job by a campaign manager Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) who sees potential in the young McKay who happens to be the son of the former governor of California. McKay at first is a liberal lawyer actively working causes he believes in. Redford does something interesting in his performance here which is he starts out not exactly all that charismatic. He portrays McKay as clearly a passionate sort of man as he espouses his semi-disinterest with Lucas's offer. Redford does not suggest this in a way that is especially endearing though. He does not espouse his views as a man who is trying gently convince a disbeliever of something, but rather just kinda bluntly telling his belief in a way where he obviously believes he is right. Redford does not give a wiggle room there as he pains McKay's personal drive as something that you can either take or leave, it's not something he will paint any other way.
McKay eventually accepts the offer due to Lucas promising McKay that he can say what he wants since he is going to lose to the incumbent Jarmon who is viewed as unbeatable. At the beginning of the campaign trail Redford is rather effective in depicting McKay's attempts to get his message out there. At first McKay rather bluntly states what his exact beliefs are. Redford is good in showing the lack of panache in the way that McKay does this. When he's trying to talk to random potential voters for the camera Redford brings a certain awkwardness about the whole thing. Redford does not show a lack of conviction in his statements, but rather he expresses the embarrassment of sorts in McKay as though he's not quite sure why he's making his statements in the public forums the way he is. What Redford does though is gradually suggest McKay kinda getting the hang of things as the campaign continues forward. Redford begins to project a stronger charisma in McKay ways as he seems simply more comfortable in the whole interactions with the people and the cameras.
Redford still keeps an inherent anger in McKay's manner though as he states his opinions somewhat as the last angry man, and there is still that quality in which would be rather off putting if one does not completely agree with the man. McKay manages to wins his party's primary though the initial polls show that he will suffer a crushing victory when facing his Republican opponent. McKay being against the embarrassment of such a defeat begins to become even more accepting of all of his managers' advice. This leaves McKay to reign his message in a rather peculiar way in which most of his statements become broad generalizations that most people are willing to support. Redford is equally good in creating the gradual change in this sense. At first he portrays some hesitation in his delivery of these tailored made statements, although for the most part is able to move through them well enough. Redford underlies it with some more obvious distaste for it all as there is something seething beneath McKay as he is forced to hide his real beliefs, making it particularly when McKay potentially compromises his gains from a charged outburst at the end of his otherwise standardized debate with Jarmon.
The need of the victory out weight the needs of the espousal of views in the end for McKay. There is a great scene for Redford where he seems to indicate McKay's final transformation into the true politician. It's in the form of a speech which Redford delivers at first still with some of that past in the man as he opens in a possibly volatile fashion. Suddenly though when he gets into the meat of the speech Redford is excellent as he becomes the man who's ready to win the race. Redford realizes the command and charisma needed for the politician now as he gives a speech with little meaning other than that America is great and electing him will only aid in that fact. Redford finalizes the transformation brilliantly as he makes McKay far more appealing than he was before, and delivers the speech in a rather rousing way that almost seems to cover up just how shallow it is. He becomes the great American he was meant to be no longer seeming champion his personal cause, but rather champions every cause of any person. Of course it becomes far more difficult to decipher whatever it is that McKay believes in or ever believed in.
McKay continues on his campaign and Redford presents a charged man who seems to master the camera and the public through his unending espousing of platitudes as well as his so promising campaign slogan. This is not to say McKay is completely at ease with himself though Redford is terrific in realizing the acceptance of McKay for the most part. He no longer needs to plug the anger away rather he's done away with it into a certain confusion as well as resignation over his own vapidness. He might still have a problem but can do away with most of it in a quiet sigh when no one is watching. His only major breakdown is a great scene for Redford, because the breakdown is not McKay finally lashing out for his true passions, but rather just not being able to help himself from laughing at his own ridiculousness as he tries to turn out a TV ad. Redford gives a very strong performance here as he drives home the message of the film so well. He does not win us over as an audience here as the passionate young man with a purpose, instead he does it as the politician without a purpose but with the ability to make nothing, something one can vote for.