David Karlak, “The Candidate” (2010)
Entirely driven by character and dialogue, this interesting character study of a corporate middle manager, ambitious and not a little sociopathic to boot, who falls victim to his own greed and ruthlessness – with not a little help perhaps from a cosmic joker – is tight and suspenseful. Burton Grunzer (Tom Gulager), a middle-level marketing executive in a large and rather faceless corporation, chafes at being partnered with fellow exec Whitman Hayes (Thomas Duffy) who wastes time while giving marketing presentations but is nevertheless valued by his senior managers because he has the human touch. The Big Boss (Vyto Ruginis) offers friendly advice to Grunzer that he ought to be thankful for having Hayes on his side but Grunzer is incapable of the insight necessary to accept such advice.
Lately Grunzer has been pestered by emails and letters from a Carl Tucker of the secretive Society of United Action and one day he decides to accept a visit from Tucker (Robert Picardo) when his secretary (Meghan Markle) opens a handwritten and delivered letter from that fellow. From then on the film becomes a showcase of Picardo’s acting and the suspense the actor draws from his monologue as Tucker explains to a bemused Grunzer the origins of the Society of United Action and its goals. The SoUA is devoted to killing off various targeted people by an apparently legal if underhanded method – it is a version of what indigenous Australian people known as the Arrernte call “bone-pointing” in which a person is willed to die – and Tucker wants to know if Grunzer is interested in this method. By this point in the film, the viewer is well aware that Grunzer dislikes Hayes and would not stop at getting rid of his marketing partner permanently if he can avoid the legal consequences.
The film’s premise might appear hokey to some – how does the SoUA come to know about Grunzer’s character and personality? – but it turns out to be very plausible thanks to incredible acting from both Gulager and Picardo respectively building up their characters as the repellent Grunzer and the affable Tucker. By the time Picardo appears on the scene, the viewer already knows what a nasty piece of work Grunzer is. Picardo playing a fast-talking sales representative with a homely, friendly manner effectively conceals the sinister agenda he offers to Grunzer. Grunzer’s own ambition and character flaws make him an ideal fellow to fall into the secretive organisation’s clutches, and this scenario in itself might say something about how the mysterious workings of the universe find opportunity to ensnare people through their weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
The bland surroundings of the corporate office environment might be enough to send any latent sociopath completely off the edge so much kudos is in order for those in the production crew who found the place or created it. The film’s pacing – and Picardo’s own pacing – build up the suspense very effectively. Its structuring into two halves, the first half setting up the character of Grunzer and forming the framework for the second half, is very tight, so tight that it is almost rushed.
The film could almost serve as a parable, the motto of which might be “Be careful what you wish for”, so universal is its message of wanting control and accepting the help that unexpectedly comes a person’s way – and which turns out to be a veritable spider’s web of control in itself.