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The Contender
2000 - R - 126 Mins.
Director: Rod Lurie
Written By: Rod Lurie
Starring: Gary Oldman Joan Allen Jeff Bridges Christian Slater Sam Elliott
Review by: Greg Ursic
   
How many people can truly say they've never done anything they're ashamed of: a drunken brawl, sexual indiscretion, cheated on their taxes… Anyone, who decides to run for office, knows that any skeletons they've buried are going to dragged out and paraded for public view - the higher the position, the deeper digging. And sex sells.

When the vice president suddenly dies, President Jackson Evans is faced with the task of finding a replacement. His decision is made doubly difficult by the fact that Laine Hanson, the person he wants to name as successor, not only isn't a distinguished war hero (it never hurts) she also happened to switch political parties, earning many powerful enemies in the process. It's what Evans doesn't know however that might sink his hope of leaving office with a legacy.

It is no coincidence that a movie about dirty tricks in politics hit the screens soon after the "LewinskyGate" debacle and less than a month before the federal election. The movie sets out to examine several important issues: should someone's sexual past (or present) have any bearing on their ability to hold office, does the public have any right to know and are women treated more harshly? The answers (in my opinion anyway) are no, no and yes. Unfortunately, the film turns into a liberal revenge piece, and spends the bulk of its time making monsters and messiahs - Hanson is painted as the only good apple in a bad barrel, her every move scored with a thundering soundtrack. In addition, the plot "twists" are so blatantly obvious to anyone who bothers to pay attention, that the climax fizzles. While I have definite reservations about the subject matter, I can't say the same for the actors.

In his most powerful performance since "The Fabulous Baker Boys" Jeff Bridges' food-obsessed President (almost every one of his scenes is prefaced by an order from the kitchen -he is determined to find something that they don't carry) is both clever and quirky. Gary Oldman is both remarkable and practically unrecognizable as Shelly Runyon, the man who heads the committee to confirm the VP. Unfortunately, due to postproduction editing - almost twenty minutes were cut - Runyon is so demonized that he is rendered little more than a caricature (Oldman was so upset by the final product that he is considered legal action, claiming he had been misled). It is Joan Allen who truly shines, as the stoic, principled politician, who is willing to stand by her beliefs, regardless the cost, she creates an immensely powerful female character.

Excellent portrayals notwithstanding, "Contender" fails to even attempt objectivity, instead embracing extremism, for a world that is either black or white. The final result is a bland story with little to offer. Too bad.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

 
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