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
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.
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