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THE CONTENDER / (2000) **** (out of four)
After our recent presidential conflicts, Rod Lurie's political drama, "The Contender" is of the most timely and uncommonly absorbing movies this year, even though we may be sick and tired of politics. The film examines political figures and their stand of such controversial issues like abortion, infidelities, and even Clinton's impeachment trial, making this production feel real, as if a behind the scenes look at a sex scandal in Washington DC because it is so well written and portrayed. Interlaced with much thought-provoking material and Academy Award worthy performances, "The Contender" is one of the best pictures of the year.
As the film opens, the country's vice president has recently died, leaving Democratic President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges), who is near the end of his final term, choosing a vice president for replacement. Although he recently bared his courage in a failed attempt to save a woman from drowning, Governor Jack Hathaway (William L. Peterson) is turned down by President Evens. Instead, Evens wants to leave a legacy by selecting a woman as vice president, thus chooses a Senator who currently shifted from the Republican party to the Democratic party, Laine Hanson (Joan Allen). The Republican confirmation committee chairman, Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman), thinks Evans' choice to be self-dignified and inaccurate, and desires Hathaway to take the place of the vice president.
"The Contender" begins on a strong note, only displaying the necessary events. We do not witness the death of the original vice-president because it is not important. We do get to see the heroic action of Governor Hathaway, however, squarely because this event, concluding with a shocking twist, plays a vital role in the movie at a later time. Through brilliant directing and editing, the story provides an increasing amount of tension within the characters, especially the Joan Allen and Jeff Bridges characters.
In a cruel attempt to prove the insecurities of the vice-presidential candidate, Runyon uncovers information that places Hanson's morality in question. The situation is whether or not she participated in public sex with two men (at the same time) while 19 years of age in college. The information is leaked to the press, while Runyon uses the discussion to bring the subject in the hearings. "What I say the American people will believe. And do you know why? Because I will have a very big microphone in front of me," states Runyon. The democrats are extremely weary over this case because 1) they know Runyon's statement is true and 2) Hanson refuses to acknowledge anything regarding her alleged sexual adventures. Even so, the president supports his candidate.
The movie succeeds with its accurate and involving performances. Joan Allen is Award material in a performance that is tense, taut, and engaging. Christian Slater is frantic and energetic as a novice reporter. Jeff Bridges is entirely convincing as the President of the United States. His prestige is convincing and he exhibits a powerful, detailed attitude, resulting in a superb performance. Gary Oldman is perfect with a sly, cunningly cocky and self-confident performance that fits his character extremely well; there is a very real possbility his work will be remembered come Academy Award time.
"The Contender" succeeds to a high degree because it makes us to examine our own beliefs and possible reactions to such a pragmatic issue; would we, as individuals, want a vice-president who is a sleaze ball, or as a character puts it "with a mouth full of c*ck." What makes the film even more extraordinarily enthralling is that it never until the end reveals whether Laine actually did participate in the immoral acts. This is a very thought-provoking story, full of surprising twists and a meaningful message.
Unless you sleep through your days or live with your head buried in the sand, you know that, without a doubt, politics is a dirty business. But do we need to be reminded of that fact? The answer to that is, inarguably, yes; just as we must be reminded of the Holocaust lest we forget and allow history to repeat itself, we have to at least keep somewhat abreast of anything which so significantly affects our lives. And unfortunately (some would say), politics is one of those things, and whether we approach it actively or view it all with passive ambiguity, the fact remains that what happens in government affects us all in one way or another on a daily basis. `The Contender,' written and directed by Rod Lurie, is a serious and sensitive examination of the political machinations employed to effect power and control within a democracy. In Lurie's scenario, the position of Vice President of The United States has been open for three weeks and must be filled. President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) makes his choice: Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen), who would be the first woman in history to hold the position. First, however, she must be confirmed. And at this point, the real story begins to unfold as the beast rears it's head: Enter partisanism, personal agendas, media manipulation and, somewhere near the bottom of the list, Truth. To illustrate this dirtiest of all businesses, Lurie references a specific episode from the not-too-distant past, and draws a number of parallels to more recent political events, all of which are used purposefully and effect the desired results. It becomes not so much a case of good against evil so much as simply a question of what is right and what is wrong, who draws the line and who decides when and where that line should be crossed. To his credit, Lurie objectively presents both sides of the story without delving so deep as to mire the proceedings down with any unnecessary baggage merely to introduce any subjective leanings or to manipulate the audience one way or another. It's like a political campaign; viewers are left to decide for themselves and cast their vote as they may. The theme of the story itself is not virgin territory, but the way it's handled and delivered, including some exceptionally strong performances (there should be some Oscar nominations here), makes it unique. Joan Allen adds another exemplary performance to her resume, further demonstrating her great prowess as an actress. She imbues Laine Hanson with a strength and character that makes her entirely believable and credible. And Gary Oldman (in what is an uncharacteristic role for him) is absolutely dynamic as the ultra-conservative Shelly Runyon, who proves to be a most formidable opponent to Hanson and Evans. Bridges also comports himself well, creating a strong, insightful character in President Evans, exhibiting the very private, human qualities behind the public figure. The excellent supporting cast includes Christian Slater (Reginald Webster), Sam Elliott (Kermit), William Petersen (Hathaway), Philip Baker Hall (Oscar), Mike Binder (Lewis), Robin Thomas (William Hanson) and Saul Rubinek (Jerry). Lurie allows only a single lapse into melodrama (patriotic music begins to swell about half-way through Hanson's final speech), but the closing speech by President Evans is impeccably delivered with force and strength, and his words are exhilarating; how satisfying it is to hear things said that must and should be said, if only in the movies. Using the political arena to address subjects that concern all of us morality, ethics, principles, truth and honesty `The Contender' is riveting drama that invokes the conscience of a nation by examining the moral fiber and motives of those who would aspire to greatness. It's gripping entertainment with a message about Truth, Decency and the necessity of bipartisanism in politics; it's a statement well made, and one that should be taken to heart by all. I rate this one 9/10.
Great flick, worthy of a 10 and higher rating than IMDb users have given it. Mulitple worthy performances, esp. Jeff Bridges in one of his best among trademark eccentric roles; writing is flawless and no cheesy plot twists geared towards non-intelligent viewers, typical for American viewers. And the final tie-in with the first seen, tough to see coming and proves the writing's prowess. A ++ in every sense, one of the most underrated classics of all time. A plethora of actors here making great performances - Sam Elliot, William Petersen, Christian Slater - who hasn't done much since, nor much in the few years prior, and of course Oldman who I could not recognize for a good portion of the flick - kudos to the producers for leaving the cast till the end, I had the benefit of not reading publicity on the film which kept me guessing and enriched the experience. Again, go see this film and let's give it the ranking it deserves fellow IMDb users!
Excellent political thriller-drama with a great cast which certainly
delivered. The story isn't very original, but that doesn't bother. Jeff
Bridges was very good and funny as the president of the United States.
He was always very relaxed and human during his role. The attitude, the
way of thinking, the nonchalance... it made his performance quite
amazing. Jeff Bridges is one of my favourite actors. He capable of
playing every role. Be honest, who would have thought "the dude" would
make an excellent president as well?
Furthermore I loved Joan Allen's and Gary Oldman's performance as well. Both were excellent. As well as Christian Slater playing the young idealist. "The Contender" certainly deserves this rating and I'm convinced it even deserves a higher rating, something like 7.3.
"The Contender" is political thriller-drama which is certainly worth watching. Although this movie doesn't want to make a certain (moral) statement, I loved the following quote by Joan Allen's character: "Principles only mean something when you stick to them when its inconvenient."
This may not be the greatest White House movie thriller ever - as its makers
claim - but it is probably the most politically explicit. Gone are the days
of Advise and Consent, when the opposing parties were simply referred to as
the "majority" and "minority", and the movie aimed at non-partisan
neutrality . Here, the administration is Democrat, and the film proudly
wears its liberal heart on its sleeve. And the movie is all the better for
this clarity and honesty.
Jeff Bridges is well cast as Jackson Evans, a President every bit as charismatic and opportunistic as Bill Clinton. Indeed, the whole movie can be seen as a take on the Monica Lewinsky saga, highlighting the manipulation and hypocrisy displayed on all sides at that time. (One mistake in the script is a direct reference to the Clinton impeachment vote; it is dangerous for parodies or satires to refer to the true stories on which they are based - it leads to a dislocation in the audience's point of view, and in this case to the awkward question - if this is a post-Clinton Democrat President, and he's coming to the end of his second term, in just what year is the action supposed to be taking place?!)
Given the White House shenanigans in recent years, it is surprising that some IMDb commenters should question the plausibility of the plot, which I feel stretches our credulity no further than most Hollywood thrillers. Joan Allen as vice-Presidential nominee Laine Hanson, and Gary Oldman as Shelly Runyon, her would-be character assassin, have strong parts and make the most of them - though personally I think it is Bridges' movie - but there is perhaps a little too much of Christian Slater in a curious role as Reginald Webster, a young, liberal, but seemingly anti-feminist, Democrat Congressman. The director, Rod Lurie, seems unable to make up his mind whether Webster should be portrayed as an overly-naive idealist, or an ambitious cynic with his eye on the main chance.
Overall, this is a fast-moving, enjoyable film, making the points that petty personal indiscretions should have little influence when it comes to power politics, and that it's about time the USA had a woman as President or at least a heart beat away.
I looked forward to seeing this movie because I admire the work of Jeff
Bridges, Sam Elliott, Gary Oldman and Joan Allen. After seeing this
film, I hoped they had been paid well. It certainly did not showcase
The Contender has no characters, just caricatures - no script, but cliché piled on top of cliché - no plot, just a two-hour harangue filled with every bumper-sticker political slogan imaginable. If it was meant to be an intelligent criticism of the state of American politics, it actually fell below the actual state of American politics (if such a thought is even conceivable).
Contemporary screenplays provide more than ample evidence of the general poverty of writing in Hollywood, but The Contender has to rank as one of the worst political screenplays ever. Every politician is a cynical and amoral SOB and though I may tend to agree with the characterization, it would have been useful to have someone show some small degree of integrity. Of course, Ms. Allen is Ms. Integrity through and through - she seems consistently honest, though one marvels at the superficiality of her political philosophy and the motivation for her behavior.
At the conclusion of the film, the director informs us that he made the movie "for our daughters". If I wanted my daughter to enter politics, live a life of personal integrity, and actually do something positive for this country, this would be the last film I would recommend to her.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Contender, in a sense, is a movie that fails. Why? Well the acting is tremendous, let's just get that out of the way right off the bat. Joan Allen and Jeff Bridges are very deserving of their Oscar nominations. However the movie fails because it uses these great actors in what ultimately turns out to be a decent, yet mediocre movie. There was certainly nothing tremendous, or unique about this story. We have seen this all before with our previous president. Sex scandals are condemning, but not enough to keep someone from getting to the position that they want to get to (and keep in mind, they never disclosed to the public that the "incident" never happened, so in the public's mind, the Allen character was...well guilty for lack of a better word). In fact our past President's story is much more riveting because he was the President when the scandal happened, and it happened in the White House. Now I know this movie tries to put a different spin on this issue by using a woman as the character caught in an alleged sex scandal, and suggesting that because it is a woman it is different. In other words a woman would never get a way with this kind of scandal and a man would. However, if they wanted to feed off of that different spin then they should have provided different results from what occurred in the Clinton scandal. Instead the same results were exhibited. The Democrats said "who cares," and the Republicans said "hang her." If they wanted to make it so different then everyone would have wanted her out of the picture, period. This movie also got a little caught up in the "Democrat good, Republican bad" idea. If the story could have been a little more objective, then it would have been a little more powerful. And one more thing, I don't care if it is a woman, a man, a Democrat, or a Republican. If you put someone in the position that the Joan Allen character was in, and they publicly admitted that they did not believe in God, then they would not get confirmed. The bottom line is: 90-95% of Americans believe in some sort of higher deity, and they would not want an atheist second-in-command. Overall, a "missed the mark" movie that could have been so much more. But like I have said before, that's just my opinion.
The Contender is a film with the potential to take any conscientious
person with even a mild interest in how governments are run , and who the
leaders are through a non-stop roller-coaster ride of challenge, triumph,
pain, failure, and morality. Although I intensely appreciated this movie,
do not believe this could have been an oscar-winning film because the
it expresses with regards to the presence of women in high ranking
positions far outway its acting and directing talents, with the possible
exception of Gary Oldman's role as Shelly Runyon, who was frighteningly
convincing at being an absolutely awful man.
I enjoyed this movie because of its intention to show what women in
politics really face. The strength displayed by Laine Hanson (Joan Allen)
while up for vice president is nothing short of inspirational. Gary
character provides us with a good idea of how manipulative and ruthless
people can be when in a position of power and, ironically, when they have
been put in a position to judge another's morality. This film seems so
realistic that we tend to forget it's a movie. It makes us question, why
does a person have to be surrounded by such controversy and be forced to
take on such a defensive position, simply for being a woman? What I
appreciated is the refusal of Hanson to succomb to the pressure of taking
that defensive position, regardless of the truth. Of course, the other
refreshing aspect in this movie is Jeff Bridges' role as an ideal
All in all, it is a long overdue account of reality, with great character development but not recommended for those with short attention spans, as it is dialogue, and lots of it.
This movie could have been great. The first half was dramatic, compelling,
believeable, and character-driven. The 2nd half degenerated into the
tawdriest and most unbelieveable sort of political propagandizing
imagineable. It's hard to believe, in fact, that the person who wrote the
first half of this movie also wrote the 2nd half.
The first half of this movie is very human...a story about people in politics, being tested by morally ambiguous circumstances. Their actual politics, while clearly laid out, are secondary. Moviemakers used to wisely recognize the folly of imposing their own political views on their audience, and made sure that political expressions were limited to those that were fairly universally accepted--truth, honesty, and so forth. Remember "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"? "The Contender," however, goes out of its way to do the exact opposite.
Near the beginning of the movie,Laine Hanson (an ubelieveably saintly Republican-turned-Democrat) is speaking to her father, a retired Republican Governor, whom the filmmakers gratuitously have chide his grandchild for his kindergarten teacher's having mentioned Jesus in the classroom. Teachers are there to "teach, not preach," and he denounces her remark about Jesus as "superstition"--quite beside anything remotely pertinent to the story. His remark, though, is pointed, his attitude is bizarrely sneering for what the writers clearly hope to pass off as an aside. The movie gets much worse, though. Later, during what is supposed to be a rousing and morally superior closing statement before the Senate Confirmation Committee that has been questioning her moral suitability, she proudly declares herself to be an atheist who worships in the "chapel of democracy." During the same speech, she declares that she wants to remove "every gun from every household," that she supports a woman's sacred right to choose, and so on and so forth. Standard political boilerplate. (Curiously, she states at one point that she left the Republican party when they moved away from the values she espouses. I wonder...when has the Republican party EVER espoused gun banning, abortion, abolition of the death penalty, or any of the causes for which Laine now so zealously crusades? Are the filmmakers trying to make her seem thoughtful and fairminded in her zeal? Come on!)
Okay, so what's wrong with this? She's a politician expressing political ideals? First of all, the speech is hoaky as can be, with music clearly meant to raise us to a pitch of (left-wing) patriotism...the effect, though is embarrassing. I was uncomfortable for Joan Allen having to recite such awful lines. Second, she's is supposed to be a moderate Democrat...yet all the views she expresses extremely left-wing. Even Republicans in this movie espouse leftist ideology (like her father). The one person who expresses a conservative viewpoint is Gary Oldman's character, a political hardball player who during the confirmation hearings is given to snarling at this poor woman for supporting a "holocause" of "unborn babies." The cliches are fast and furious. To show, however, that Runyon (Oldman's character) is--or WAS-- a good man, the writers trot out his haggard wife and have her remind him of the time he stood for something good...the time he stood up for hate crime legislation! Amazing. Third, the filmmakers take all this silly rhetoric as seriously as Laine Hanson does! In fact, if this movie's failure can be summed up, it is probably that the moviemakers are as gravely serious about the protagonist's trenchant ideology as she is. The term for this is: Authorial Intrusion. The moviemakers committ is, big time.
The problem with this movie is not that it favors liberal ideology, of course. It's that it favors ANY ideology. You cannot promote any agenda as brazenly and aggressively as this movie does, and not have it throw the whole movie off kilter...like a shopping cart with a bad wheel. The ending of this movie--which I will not divulge--is improbably beyond belief. This movie has been billed as a political thriller. It isn't. It's a hybrid between a cheesy soap opera, and a propaganda film. Gary Oldman and Joan Allen deliver great performances, though, and if this movie is worth seeing at all, it is just to see two great actors practicing their craft.
The film irritated me from the opening scenes. Badly filmed, cut, written, etc. The only saving grace was Gary Oldman. This is a MESSAGE movie...Conservative Republicans BAD, Liberal Democrats GOOD!. Sadly I agree with the principles espoused in the movie. But I do not have to be hit over the head by a contrived unbelievable script to get the message. It was like viewing a WWII propaganda Movie. Or the old movie "Reefer Madness". What a debacle!
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