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9/10
Riveting performances and a thought-provoking story. One of the best movies of the year. **** (out of four)
Movie-1227 December 2000
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.
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8/10
Where Lewinsky meets Lebowski
Geofbob30 April 2001
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.
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9/10
Pleasant surprise, excellent performances
Travis_Bickle0124 July 2005
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."

9/10
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9/10
Important, Dynamic Film
jhclues16 October 2000
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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10/10
deserving
mister_knobbs20 August 2006
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!
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A very accurate portrayal of women in politics
edith_gagne26 March 2001
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, I do not believe this could have been an oscar-winning film because the truths it expresses with regards to the presence of women in high ranking political 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 Oldman's 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 president.

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.
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6/10
Great Acting, only decent story
Willie-1210 March 2001
Warning: 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.
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1/10
Implausible--Falls Apart in the 2nd Half
sisyphus-1215 March 2001
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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1/10
One of the worst and most manipulative political movies one will ever see
danielf-crawford22 October 2014
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 their talent.

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.
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7/10
So many acting Pros, so few twists
David Ferguson21 October 2000
Greetings again from the darkness. Director Rod Lurie is living my fantasy. After a career as a movie critic, he is now directing some of Hollywood's best (and under-utilized) actors and actresses. This little thriller is fun to watch thanks mostly to the skills of those on the screen. All of these actors should work more ... SHARE your talent. Jeff Bridges is a very pompous, yet charming, smooth talking president. I assume the list to play the president was short, thanks to a couple of script lines about Clinton. Joan Allen is excellent as the cool senator with the lurid past (?) who is nominated for the VP slot. Gary Oldman, who continues to reinvent the role of CREEP, steals every scene he is in. Of course, this happens in all of his movies! It is always nice to see Sam Elliott and William Petersen on screen. And I guess Christian Slater is trying to salvage a career after the disastrous "Very Bad Things". He has lost some smugness and tempered his Jack Nicholson dialect. My only disappointment with the movie was in the script. Although I love the subject matter and the issues raised, I kept waiting for the shoe to drop on Gary Oldman's charater's deep, dark secret. Jeff Bridges stifling his political career seem quite the letdown. Would have really enjoyed a few more plot twists to really test the audience and cast. My tidbit for this one comes from the career of Sam Elliott. Next time you are watching "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", check out a young Sam Elliott in the early card playing scene. Also, William Petersen's power-hungry wife in "The Contender" is played by Kristen Shaw, a carry-over from Rod Lurie's film, "Deterrence".
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10/10
A political masterpiece!
Patrick Brogan13 October 2000
When a politican is placed into a new position, there will be people who support their new title. Then there are those who will oppose. What is sad is that in modern times there are the people who oppose who will do whatever they can to prevent that politican to be elected. In the new political thriller THE CONTENDER, that is what the story is, but it's also a story of kicking someone when they are already down on the groung. President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) has left the country guessing on who will replace the former vice-president who passed away a few weeks eariler. Most politicans and news reporters speculate that the nominee will be Governer Jack Hathaway (William L. Petersen). But President Evans surprises the nation by nominating Ohio Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen). A majority of the women in the U.S. are excited that finally a female is in a high political position. And the male democrats are also pleased because of her political viewpoints. However, there are some male politicans who are not happy to see Senator Hanson take the Vice President chair, espcially Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman) who is in charge of a committee who must confirm Senator Hanson's appointment. Shelly enlists a young congressman, Reginald Webster (Christian Slater) to investigate the past history of Senator Hanson, particularly the scandals. While President Evans has his two aids, Kermin Newman (Sam Elliott) and Jerry Tolliver (Saul Rubinek) work around and try to respond to the scandals of Hanson's past so she can still get the public support and the nomination. THE CONTENDER is a film with little action, and it's mostly dialogue scenes for over two hours. Yet, this two hour film will grab onto the viewer's attention for it's film length, making the time go by very very very fast. I was hooked onto this film from the opening scene, and the next thing I realize, the film was already over! This political movie, like the Oliver Stone classic JFK, went by so quickly because the subject and characters are so fascinating that you think this was a documentary. This is one brillant masterpiece film that deals with politics that it will be ranked among MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, and THE CANDIDATE. It is more political fact than fiction, yet this is a story that was written for the screen. The message of this movie is, although you do not agree with the political viewpoints of a candidate, should you do whatever you can to destroy them? Including publicize that candidate's personal past that will humiliate and emotionally scar that person forever. And bring out to the public a past that one would like to forget, to that one's family, friends, fellow workers, and the population of the world. THE CONTENDER asks the viewer those questions, and also asks the viewer, if you were that person being investigated what could you do? I was really amazed on how much of a excellent thriller THE CONTENDER was. The acting by it's cast also made the film more realistic and exciting. Joan Allen is fantastic as the role of the Senator who is the victim of this sexual witchhunt. I thought Julia Roberts in ERIN BROCKOVICH was a shoe-in for Best Actress. But she might lose due to the performance given by Joan Allen, and I personally would like to see Allen get the Oscar. Gary Oldman is at his villainous best in this film. Unlike his villian roles in BRHAM STROKER'S DRACULA and AIR FORCE ONE, his role of Shelly Runyon is cruel and vicious as he not only wants to knock down a opponent but also destory the opponent's life forever. Oldman plays Runyon calm and cool, but his words and actions are similar to a madman. Jeff Bridges is also excellent as the president who despite his candidate's past, still believes that his nominee is worthy of the title and stands by his belief. Sam Elliott is great as well as the political aid who is frustrated by the information that Runyon is releasing to the public, and is trying to either cover up or debate the scandal issues being brought up. And Christian Slater is at his best as the young and ambitious political congressman who will do whatever he can to get into a higher office, yet is blinded by his own ambition. Director/writer Rod Lurie does a marvelous job with this film, by creating a story that would have appeared to be based on a true story, but it isn't. Although it does have similar echoes to the President Clinton/Monica Lewensky scandal two years ago. And Lurie's pacing of this film is fast and captivating. Lurie along with Cameron Crowe deserves a nomination for Best Director, but he deserves to win a Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. His screenplay is so brilliant, his character's have extraordinary discussions between each other. My favorite's where the lunch scene between Allen and Oldman. And the White House gallery scene between Bridges and Slater. Along with the other fantastic films that Dreamworks SKG has released this year, GLADIATOR, CHICKEN RUN, and ALMOST FAMOUS; THE CONTENDER proves that Dreamworks is the studio of the 21st Century. I am pleased that Steven Spielberg is seeing Dreamworks as a studio who releases fantastic films, and not just popcorn fluff. And I would be very curious to hear what real politicans reactions are to this film. I can see them saying that this film is pure "Hollywood" nonsense, but how can it be since it does seem so real? THE CONTENDER along with ALMOST FAMOUS and GLADIATOR will probably be among the films nominated for best picture for this year. And whoever is "greenlighting" these films for Dreamworks, I feel deserves a very HUGE raise. It seems that Dreamworks is stomping out it's competition for the quality of films it's releasing this year. It's time that other studios take Dreamworks more seriously now. As for THE CONTENDER, if ALMOST FAMOUS doesn't get nominated for Best Picture, then I feel THE CONTENDER should get nominated and win! THIS FILM IS A MASTERPIECE!!!!!!! ***** (out of five)
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crackling political drama
Roland E. Zwick21 July 2001
Writer/director Rod Lurie's `The Contender' marks a significant advance in both technique and storytelling ability for this fledgling filmmaker over his sole previous cinematic effort, `Deterrence.' This former L.A. film critic-turned-filmmaker has created a crackerjack political thriller attuned to the temper of its times. In this era in which one politician after another has fallen victim to the cutthroat `politics of personal destruction' as practiced in the media, in the committee hearing room and in the backrooms of campaign headquarters around the nation, `The Contender' emerges as a timely, astute and politically savvy drama.

Like most contemporary films that deal with political issues, `The Contender' demonstrates an obvious left leaning bias. As usual, it is the Democrats who are portrayed as the righteous speakers of truth and the Republicans who are shown as the scheming, unctuous and conniving dispensers of hatred and rumormongering. Jeff Bridges stars as President Jackson Evans, a well-meaning, seemingly moral man who, upon the sudden death of his vice president, nominates a woman, Senator Laine Hanson, to be his replacement. Gary Oldman plays the Republican chairman who will stop at nothing in his efforts to torpedo the nomination, even if that means exposing her rather torrid sexual past for all the world to see (although, in many ways, his obsession with ruining the chances of a candidate he feels to be less qualified in favor of one who is more beloved as a national figure makes little practical sense because wouldn't he, as a member of the rival party, be MORE inclined to support someone he thought would bring trouble to the present administration?)

If you can see past the partisan propaganda, you will find `The Contender' to be one of the most riveting films of the past several years. In many ways, it reminds one of those Biblical spectaculars that moviemakers like Cecil B. DeMille used to churn out in the 1950's, the ones that would allow us to wallow in the depiction of all sorts of `sinful' activities, yet when the divine judgments began to fall on the perpetrators, permit us to feel morally superior to it all at the same time. In a similar way, `The Contender,' may come out foursquare against the obsession we seem to have concerning the sex lives of our elected officials – but it sure has a fun time devoting two solid hours to the topic. And its fun is ours.

One of the reasons that `The Contender' succeeds so well is because Laine Hanson, as portrayed by the brilliant Joan Allen, is an endlessly fascinating and enigmatic character. We never know quite what to make of her and it is this sense of moral imbalance that draws us in to her plight. Had she been made an innocent victim or a goody-two-shoes, she would quickly lose our interest. As the President, seemingly more concerned with ordering up spectacular dishes from the White House kitchen than with the pressing concerns of affairs of state, Jeff Bridges cuts just as believable and compelling a figure.

As with virtually all films of a political nature, the characters' actions are occasionally inexplicable within the context of practical politics. For example, President Evans rejects one of his top candidates for the VP position for ludicrous reasons. When Governor Jack Hathaway attempts but fails to rescue a woman from her vehicle that has crashed to the bottom of a river, Evans tells Hathaway that he believes the Republicans will try to bring up parallels to Chappaquiddick in an attempt to sink his nomination. Not only is that a patently absurd possibility, but Evans seems blithely unconcerned about the much worse drubbing he and his eventual nominee end up undergoing. Which leads us to the next implausibility – Evans' sticking by Hanson far past the point where any real president would have asked for the candidate to withdraw her name. Oh well, `The Contender' may not always ring true in its plotting, but it definitely gets the job done as a piece of titillating pulp drama.

My only serious complaint with the film comes in its closing stretches. Perhaps it is too much, in these days of mandatory happy endings and feel-good emotionalism, to expect the type of clear-eyed cynical conclusions we were treated to in movies like `The Candidate' or `The Best Man,' but the upbeat, fairy tale resolution here is unworthy of all the good stuff that has gone before it. By climbing onto a soapbox and deigning to lecture to us all, Lurie cops out on both Hanson and the audience - striving for the type of phony inspirationalism that went out with `Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' way back in the 1930's. Such an obvious sop to the box office leaves us with a bit of a sour aftertaste after all is said and done. (Also, Lurie needs to shed himself of the gimmick he seems to have latched onto in both his films thus far – that of the melodramatic `surprise' turnabout ending. It didn't work in `Deterrence' and it doesn't work here).

Yet, despite its sundry flaws, `The Contender' emerges as one of the most compelling and fast-moving two hours you are likely to see in a long time. You may feel like taking a shower when it's all over (maybe that explains the need Lurie may have had in providing a `moral bath' in the last 15 minutes or so), but you will at least have had a great time getting dirty.
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8/10
An intelligent political film from Hollywood with an honest political slant - break out the champagne
Spleen2 August 2001
In the real world Hanson would never become president (she doesn't in the film, either, but it's hinted that she might in the future). That she's a woman is the least of her problems. Her real obstacles are, in ascending order: being a trifle too clear-headed, being honest, and being an atheist. (Actually it's the last two together that damn her.) And that's why the film is so good. The plot requires a candidate with unfashionable beliefs and integrity, and the script has the guts to actually give her both. The speeches in this film - all of them - were clearly written by people who took the time to try to understand what people who say such things believe, and why.

This is not a simplistic film, whatever you may have been told. Nor are the characters simplistic. How does one tell if a character has been poorly developed? Most people employ the completely unreliable "black and white" test: measure a character's goodness; if it is higher than some arbitrary level, the character is too good; if it is lower than some other arbitrary level, the character is too evil. This is a ridiculous way to think, even subconsciously. There's no reason WHATEVER, in ANY kind of fiction, why a character shouldn't be very good or very bad, or why the entire fictional world shouldn't be populated by people who are one or the other. The real test we should employ is this: does the character's motivation make sense? And the answer, in this film, is yes. In every case yes. -I've heard people say otherwise, but never convincingly. I've heard it said (for instance) that we don't know why the president never asks Hanson to stand down, when in fact it's made perfectly clear to anyone paying attention: he's stubborn, he wants her, and - this is the more subtle point - he half realises all along that he would demean himself by doing so. Whether such considerations would weigh with actual presidents is beside the point, since it's perfectly believable that they'd weigh with HIM.

The film makes but four mistakes worth remarking upon, only one or two of which matter. The camerawork could be improved. Lurie decided to go with the camera-following-the-characters documentary approach, which is never a good idea - but he drops this foolish affectation in all the important scenes, so we can forgive him. And the president's speech at the end... in real life, I know, he would wrap himself even more in the flag and make even less sense, but we, the audience, ought to have been given something better. Still, what matters is THAT he gave the speech, not what in particular he said in it. So we can forgive THAT. -Then there's this: Hanson does finally confess to someone what really happened on the night in question. No reason why she shouldn't; but WE should not have been told what happened. The point of the film is that it doesn't matter; and if it doesn't matter, we needn't be told. I, for one, wasn't even curious.

As for the fourth mistake...

Runyon's nefarious plan seems to go off without a hitch, and Lurie is savage on a political process that would allow this to happen, but two elements of that process escape close scrutiny: the press, and the public. (The latter, indeed, escapes all scrutiny.) Runyon leaks his dirt to the press, who dutifully make hay of it, in order to morally outrage the public, who are dutifully outraged. His plan would have failed had either press or public refused to cooperate. How does the PUBLIC, in particular, escape blame? In a democracy - even one with an electoral system as absurd as that of the United States - the electorate cannot deny responsibility for the way its representatives behave. Why does nobody in the film criticise Joe Voter, or Joe Tabloid-Buyer?

I confess to not minding THIS lapse very much (even though it's something I feel strongly about). The film is generally so much more intelligent than you'd expect it to be. Look, for instance, at the way Hanson's interrogation is structured. Anyone can see how clever Runyon is in laying political snares, but only Hanson can see how unintentionally clever he is in laying MORAL snares. (She isn't caught by any of the latter, but she IS grazed.) It's really two interrogations at once, and only she - and the audience - can see them both.
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1/10
nauseating pro-American backslapping exercise
Ben Fitzgerald26 November 2006
This film left me feeling a bit sick. Jeff Bridges' presidential schmaltz and Joan Allen's ridiculous character drove me nuts. I feel all the more cheated because for about 60 minutes this film could have been good. After the hour mark there were speeches to muted bugles followed by rapturous applause and Americans saying "I know X would benefit me but I'm gonna do Y because (insert short phrase about forefathers or doing-the-right-thing for our children here)".

Joan Allen's character is unrealistic. She is supposed to be furthering the cause of women but feminists must cringe at her subordination throughout the film.

It's not often I look up who directed a movie so I can avoid him at all costs. Rod Lurie just made the list.
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1/10
Painfully embarrassing
LilyDaleLady2 June 2005
This movie is unbearable...and I am a woman, a registered Democrat, and pro-choice feminist. "The Contender" is the very worst sort of heavy-handed and trite propaganda, that twists reality for it's own highly suspicious purposes.

Made shortly after the Clinton-Lewinksy scandals, the plot re-imagines a similar White House scandal, but centered around a female Vice Presidential candidate (a capable and always interesting Joan Allen, wasted here) who may have participated in an orgy while a college student. She is opposed for nomination by a sort of Newt Gingrich/Ken Starr hybrid creation played by Gary Oldman (excellent, but perhaps has done this sort of one dimensional villain a few times too many). Jeff Bridges, as a liberal Cllintonesque President, chews the scenery in a hammy performance that seems like leftover bits of "The Big Lebowski". (The running gag about him ordering elaborate snacks from the White House kitchen are particularly lame.)

"The Contender" has all the cinematic subtlety of one of those old silent movies that feature a saintly blonde heroine, victimized by a Snidley Whiplash type. All the bad guys -- who are, of course, Republican's ONLY -- are flat, one-note caricatures. The heroic Democrats are flat, one-note hero's, given to making stirring speeches.

The politics of the film is so extreme and one-sided that it left me scratching my head. A former Republican Senator (Allen), the daughter of a famous Republican Governor, switches to the Democratic party...although she is openly an atheist, pro-choice, anti-gun and so on. How on earth did she ever get elected as a Republican with such a platform? Her character is accused of participating in a orgy -- a phony accusation which she can easily disprove with a few words -- yet her refusal to do this is the basis for the entire film.

Sadly, the underlying ideas (how much of a political candidates personal life is legitimately worth of scrutiny and how much is entitled to be private?) is a very valid idea to discuss. In this film, the refusal of the script to tackle this idea head on renders the concept moot. It comes across as a lot of rather sad and deluded boosterism for political causes which are increasingly defeated at the polls by the voting public....."The Contender" is entirely out of touch with contemporary politics and it really has nothing worthwhile to say about Clinton, Ken Star or Monica Lewinsky, if indeed that was the purpose of all this sturm and drang.

I endured this film feeling deeply embarrassed for both Democrats and legitimately liberal causes. Fortunately, it was a box office failure (big surprise there!), and only an occasional presence on TV, so in this post 9/11 era (when presumably we have more life and death issues on the table than politicians and their sexual peccadillo's), this feels older and more tired out than the most simplistic political films of the 40s and 50s.
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1/10
Incredible Bad Propaganda Movie
jrphelan7 December 2000
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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Plot is "Republicans bad and Democrats good"
32Ford23 August 2009
First off,the acting is first rate. So good that the rest of the cast almost performs at the Gary Oldman level. That's high praise,indeed.

With that out of the way,it seems like the real purpose of this movie was to take a cheap shot at Republicans in general,and conservatives in particular. The Dims are saints,and the Republicans are evil.

This message couldn't be clearer than when Joan Allen gave her little speech about "I'm for a woman's choice,I'm for the government taking the guns out every house in the country",etc,etc,etc.,and the speech she made about leaving the Republican Party because it had shifted away from the values that formed this country. That had nothing to do with movie making,and everything to do with political propaganda. Stalin couldn't have came up with a more left-wing rant.

After all,how can you take a movie seriously when it shows a vice- presidential candidate giving a speech to a committee that states she wants to see every gun in the country confiscated by the government? We are supposed to believe the voters would take a direct assault on the Bill of Rights so casually they would elect someone who said that?

It's a damn shame the director and writers of this movie decided it was more important to make a propaganda film than a movie for entertainment.

Not that the Republicans aren't guilty of sleaze. They most certainly are. They are mere amateurs compared to the Dims,though. As the writing,editing,and directing in this movie proves.
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Very disappointing: shallow and sanctimonious tosh
pettums15 October 2000
Warning: Spoilers
You will probably find this film annoying irrespective of your political beliefs. Like several other political films, it is too gutless to follow through on what is potentially a terrific premise.

*****SPOILERS AHEAD******

So Laine comes under fire for possibly having participated in an orgy. The point of the film, which is hammered home so relentlessly that one tires of it, is that she shouldn't have to answer questions about her private life. However, she is forced at the end of the film to answer to us, and to tell both us and the President what actually happened: and it turns out that she didn't participate in the orgy. The internal logic of the film dictates that we should admire her for the moral stance she is taking now, and respect her privacy and her integrity even if she did participate; but the filmmakers were too cowardly to think that the viewers might find admirable a character who had actually participated in her youth, and they thereby completely undermine the point they were trying to make. Secondly, the fact that she betrayed her best friend by sleeping with her husband is brushed lightly aside in the film, with the comment that she was "just being human". I'm sorry, but I'm much more inclined to condemn someone for betraying their friend and sleeping with their husband than for being promiscuous when they and their sexual partners were both free.

The filmmakers were also not brave enough to make the main Republican figures remotely likeable. They should have depicted them as fighting for what they thought was right in order to make a proper film, instead of the shallow and sanctimonious tosh they are inflicting on the public.
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3/10
Laughable Cartoonish Good And Bad Guy Movie
merlin-5431 July 2003
This movie is another example of how much the moral standards have changed in this country. Where to start. First off the whole orgy thing. The character says that a MAN wouldn't be judged on having sex with multiple female partners. Well that is a distortion because it wasn't a question of how many men she had slept with, it was a question of did she participate in an orgy. In my opinion. there IS a difference between having multiple partners over a lifetime as opposed to having multiple partners in one sitting! Not that I'm judging but I don't think I'm alone on this one. You can't tell me that if someone found pictures of George W. in some hot orgy that those pictures wouldn't have `found their way' to the internet. I also feel it would have effected how people think of him. Can we get over the fact that men are different than women! Why is that so hard! As a man I will never know what it is like to carry a child inside me. Is it so wrong to say that most men and women define sex differently? (I did say most).. I guess, right or wrong, we do judge women differently because they pretty much say yes or no when it comes to having sex. Maybe it's in our nature or maybe because we (men) don't have to actually have a baby (big deterrent) that we just see the fun part and not the full consequence? Let's face it. If men got pregnant it would be a whole other world. That's probably the real underlying reason for the difference in judgment of women. Don't try to understand it. So our main character should be applauded because she is pro-choice? There is so much gray area there I don't think either side should be made to look evil. No one wants to revert back to `back alley abortions' but on the other hand, is abortion the only answer? Has it become too convenient? Instead of bringing that up, pro-life people are made to look evil in a typical one-sided black or white view. Again this was used in the Church Vs State part of the movie. It's sad and alarming the fact that she is appalled that her child was introduced in school to a man who preached things like `Love Your Enemy. Be Kind To Those That Hate You. Give To The Poor. kindness, love, fairness. amongst many other beautiful things. Yet she stands proudly with music swelling and professes her belief in this country and what it stands for! Considering this country was built on the near genocide of the American Indian. The fact that we still use slave and child labor (we've just moved it out of our country) and that we pretty much squash anyone who gets in our way. doesn't seem to bother her! Which belief is more of a `fairytale'? Then she wants to take all the guns out of every house! Well even the liberal Michael Moore has shown that guns aren't the problem. Other countries that have just as many guns don't have near as high a death rate. Don't address the real problem. just get rid of all the guns! Okay Next subject.The fact that they had to change the appearance of Gary Oldman to make him look and sound like some smarmy conniving evil man going up against the good looking do good President and the poor patriotic vice presidential candidate is so transparently cartoonish good guy bad guy that it's laughable! Give me a break! Oh. another thing. The fact that this righteous woman stole her `good friend's' husband proves what. `That love can't be controlled'. That she is only human and we should forgive her. So by that standard I guess being paranoid and power hungry are also `only human' so we should forgive Nixon. The question is. if a person can lie to and cheat on a `good friend' what is to stop them from doing the same to perfect strangers. AKA - The American People. By that standard, everything done by humans must be considered `only human' including murder I suppose. Not everyone commits murder but not everyone sleeps with their friend's husband or wife either. Where do we draw the line? Of course by the end of the movie the `evil man' is ousted and the pure innocent `only human' character is raised to the level of sainthood. Start the violins please. Funny thing is that included on this DVD was a little featurette. they had the gall to call Frank Capra's `Mr. Smith Goes To Washington' `Simplistic'. This movie was dressed up, but a totally simplistic attack on one of the 2 main political parties. As much as I dislike total liberals I have the same disdain for the total conservatives. When are people gonna learn the divide and conquer theory? You're so busy hating each other that you've lost sight of the real truth and you fall right into the hands of the people that are really running this country. Sheep to be led. I guess we get what we deserve.
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1/10
Left wing hit piece
djraymond19 June 2001
I thought this movie as bad, or worse than, The American President. Typical Hollywood left-winger fare that casts the Democrats as the progressive, beautiful, thinking party and Republicans as the ugly, mean-spirited, myopic party. Joan Allen plays a Senator who switched to the Democratic party because her Republican party strayed from what it once espoused. She is pro-abortion, for total gun confiscation, an atheist, etc. One wonders whether she ever had conservative beliefs. Now she is up for appointment as Vice President due to the death of the incumbent, and the right side of the aisle is doing everything it can to smear her. Nice plot twist on reality. The whole movie is a hit piece against the evil Republicans and an attempt to whitewash Clinton's problems while showing the Democrats to be the reasonable folk. Gary Oldman did a great job as usual. But don't waste your time.
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**** Great drama with a powerful lead performance
Bil-328 March 2001
Excellent drama that threatens to undermine itself in its final ten minutes but never actually does. Joan Allen is fantastic in her first lead role as a woman chosen to take over for the late Vice-President and is thrown for a loop when a story surfaces that she once participated in a gang-bang in college that someone happened to photograph. Refusing to play the dirty games some politicians play, she offers no comment on the issue, maintaining that her private life is not for public scrutiny. The Conservative zealot assigned to lead her Vice-Presidency appropriation (Gary Oldman) believes otherwise. Compelling drama, with a first-rate script and strong direction. Ignore the slightly overdone final speech by Bridges; Allen gives the film its meaning and sums it all up beautifully right before he gets around to speaking.
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3/10
Not realistic enough
weyeski31 July 2010
Clearly a left film with a left agenda. The "good guys" are Democrats and the "bad guys" are Republicans. It reminds me of what the Democrats actually did to female leaders like Sara Palin and Condalisa Rice. Average people who lean left will watch a film like this and think it is based on the truth. Democrats didn't want to end slavery, Republicans insisted on ending it. But if you say something enough people think it is true.

Leaving the political and social implications aside, the characters are not at all believable. The President is a off the wall character who cares too much about the fact he can order anything he wants in the White House. He is never seen with his wife, which is a shame as the film is pretended to care about women and the first lady could have been a strong character to show the way. The adversary who is trying to discredit the vice president elect is supposed to be someone the President beat out for the office, but he has no presidential appearance at all. I just never bought into the the the plot and unfortunately with people who think Mike Moore is a hero this film could be dangerous.
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1/10
Total partisan garbage
DonB-512 March 2001
Leftist spin from those famous Friends-of-Bill {Clinton} the Dreamworks gang. As if suffering through the real thing was not enough - now we get it fed to us on the big screen with a nice PRAVDA spin to it.

Poor innocent Democrats who only want to do good for the people (just ignore our sexual escapades please). Evil mean Republicans who want to destroy the Dems just for grins regardless of how much the Dems want to "feel our pain." Puke. This is pure BS and the left knows it.

We dumb down the morality of this country and call it "tolerance" for "private matters dealing with sex." We parade around chanting "tolerance" while being atheist and showing no tolerance for those who believe in God. The left can spin these issues all day long with piles of sewage like "The Contender" but it does not change the basic truth - the left believes anything goes so long as it feels good and does not hurt anyone (and they rationalize abortion by claiming the fetus is not human). This is called relativism. Any absolute (be it morality or otherwise) put forth by the right is savaged and spun to make the left look like they hold the high ground.

Thats what this movie is all about. Don't waste your time - you've seen it all with Bill and his bimbos.
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1/10
Remembering the 90's.
Fredrick Stafford16 August 2008
HBO decided to trundle this one out again. Well, it was an election year and they had to find something to run in between Generation Kill episodes I suppose. I also read recently Mr. Obama commenting this was a personal favorite.

The plot is a thinly disguised veil to excuse Mr. Clinton's disgraceful behavior of that era. All the Republicans are mouth breathing knuckle dragging fascist zealots; all the Democrats are brilliant thoughtful selfless virtuous defenders of the Constitution.

The balance of the film is well layered with typical Hollywood left-wing bias, clichés, stereotypes, and ample plot holes. Overall, this movie already seems very dated. To be fair 9-11 did that to a lot of films of this genre and this was a prime example.

However, one scene is truly disturbing even today, and maybe especially today, considering the outcome of the last U.S. election and after a summer in which we watched the Olympic games being held in a brutal totalitarian Marxist state proudly showing off goose stepping soldiers and chilling mass conformism. That scene being the main Democrat character "bravely" standing up to the "evil" Republican inquisitor and reeling off a laundry list of extremist liberal-socialist positions which culminates in her declaring that she is an atheist, but she has a religion and that religion is GOVERNMENT. Scary.
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