Pol Barers

A Perfect Candidate parties hardy

He's right--a lot of Americans naively considered North a hero or, at least, a patsy. But "liking" him or feeling sorry for him was not the same as supposing him fit for office. In the film, the tide seems to turn against North when he tells a high school student that he didn't actually lie to Congress. It contradicts what he said in the actual hearings, and when he says it, there's a shot of Goodin on the sidelines, his eyes closed in preparation for the coming migraine.

The reason it seems like such a mortal moment isn't that North lies--everyone knows politicians lie--but that it's the lie of a fantasist, a man in his own world, a man who knows he couldn't possibly have done anything wrong. By contrast, Robb's silly assertion that he's never told a lie at all seems almost credible, since he has such a hard time putting together a coherent sentence of any kind.

This happy notion--that maybe Americans are more concerned with the sanity and effectiveness of their leaders than with their personal values--must, again, be approached with caution. North was by no means hopeless as a candidate. One of the tale's stranger twists is Post reporter Baker's half-embarrassed confession: "He's won me over." After so many years of being disillusioned by career pols, he's dazzled by North's lack of guile.

Robb won narrowly, and his victory may have been due less to North's blunders than to the African-American vote, which he landed when he was endorsed by an old rival, Douglas Wilder, a black former Virginia governor who had been running against him as an independent.

Quite possibly the funniest single shot in A Perfect Candidate comes after this endorsement. It's of Robb, surely one of the most Caucasian humans ever to have walked the planet, sheepishly bobbing his head in time to a gospel choir at a rally. The idea that this funkless man we see here could party and chase women is sort of inspiring, a triumph of the human spirit.

Yet the disparity between the respective scandals of the two candidates remains lost on Goodin--he never gets it. Toward the end, he has a candid moment in which he expresses what sound like sincere doubts about what the modern style of campaigning may be doing to our government. After North concedes his defeat, Goodin changes his tune, however. At film's end, he's left bursting with rage at what he sees, after everything, as his mistake: He hasn't campaigned negatively enough.

These final seconds of A Perfect Candidate are so good--so funny, sad and human--that in a fiction film we might find them admirable but a bit too clever, too pat. Maybe we should all start watching more documentaries.

A Perfect Candidate:
Directed by R.J. Cutler and David Van Taylor; with Mark Goodin, Don Baker, Charles Robb, Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy, Douglas Wilder and Bill Clinton. Unrated. (At Valley Art Theatre in Tempe.)

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