This behind-the-scenes look at the 1994 Virginia Senate race between Oliver North and incumbent Charles Robb probably won’t surprise anyone with even a passing interest in campaign politics. Rather, “A Perfect Candidate” confirms our worst suspicions: that getting elected is an ugly, calculated and, by definition, unethical process that tends to weed out leaders of high moral fiber. But the documakers’ uncanny ability to capture back room shenanigans on film and pic’s slyly humorous editing, keep docu engrossing throughout. Pic seems a perfect candidate for a modest theatrical life in college and urban arthouse settings.
Using the same fly-on-the-wall approach as the presidential campaign documentary “The War Room”– for which “Candidate” co-producer R.J. Cutler received a 1993 Oscar nomination — pic flip-flops from the candidates’ public appearances to closed-door strategy sessions.
Cutler and co-director David Van Taylor focus mainly on North, the smooth-talking lieutenant colonel who ran covert operations out of the White House and later managed — incredibly — to reinvent himself as a Washington outsider.
Democrat Robb is less fleshed out, spending most of his onscreen time weakly denying accounts of his personal indiscretions.
To its credit, pic manages to get past obvious left-right stereotypes to offer a more subtly shaded look at the campaign’s secondary players. North strategist Mark Goodin, who comes off at first as just another swaggering good old boy, is caught later in quiet moments of disillusioned reflection. Meanwhile , cynical Washington Post reporter Don Baker grapples with his longing to recapture his lost political faith.
Tech credits are proficient, with the autumnal Virginia landscape providing a stunning backdrop for the film’s exterior scenes.