A political thriller about Laine Hanson, a Senator who is nominated to become Vice President following the death of the previous office holder. During the confirmation process, Laine is the victim of a vicious attack on her personal life in which stories of sexual deviancy are spread. She is torn as to whether she should fight back, or stick to her high principles and refuse to comment on the allegations.Written by
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.
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