Runtime: 2 Hours
and 7 Minutes
If there is one thing in the world of cinema that commands respect,
it is a film that tackles its subject without compromise. The
Contender is just such a film. It tackles its subjects
unabashedly and with a flair that is quite unique in design. Where
lesser films would skirt the issues, The Contender takes
the bull by the horns and sheds light upon the ugliness that pervades
the American political system. It is for this reason that, with time,
The Contender will take its place in the rarified
company of such legendary political thrillers as J.F.K.
and All The Presidents Men.
President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) has a difficult situation on
his hands. His Vice-President has recently passed away and he is faced
with the dilemma of choosing a successor. After the popular choice,
Governor Jack Hathaway (William Petersen), graciously withdraws his
name from consideration when the President informs him that he will
not be the one selected, the President chooses to nominate Senator
Laine Hanson (brilliantly portrayed by Joan Allen). This choice meets
with opposition in the form of Congressman Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman).
Being an old friend of Gov. Hathaway and a Republican tried and true,
Shelly is of the opinion that the Democratic President has erred in
his selection of Sen. Hanson and makes it his personal mission to
derail her bid for confirmation in every way that he possibly can.
He sends his people out to delve into her past and they return with
a bombshell. While in college she allegedly took part in a sex show
in order to be initiated into a sorority. Photographic evidence and
eyewitnesses have been obtained to confirm her past improprieties.
The shit isnt about to hit the fan, it HAS hit the fan and how
Senator Hanson chooses to deal with the allegations is the very foundation
upon which this film is built.
The Contender is a political film unlike any other in
that it doesnt deal with politics so much as principles. The
aforementioned principles belong to Senator Laine Hanson and this
film is all about those principles and how they can make or break
her future. She is put on the spot during the confirmation process
on a number of occasions. Congressman Runyon gives her the opportunity
to respond to the allegations on these occasions, but rather than
lash out at her detractors, she chooses to not speak about that, because
it is a personal matter and, as such, is nobodys business. She
views the question itself to be inappropriate, because it is a double
standard that she shouldnt have to answer to. Over time even
those on her side become frustrated with her defiance and try to make
her fight back, but she wont. She would rather withdraw her
name from consideration rather than be subject to the double standards
that perpetuate our society. She is a strong woman and will not be
bullied into doing anything against her will.
Joan Allen is this woman. She is Senator Laine Hanson. This is the
performance of a lifetime. Joan is always exceptional. In films like
Pleasantville, Manhunter and Tucker
she has delivered strong performances that remain in the viewers
mind long after others fade away. Her work here makes everything else
she has ever done look second rate in comparison. There is never a
moment that she does not convey the impression that she is under the
microscope fighting for what she believes to be right every step of
the way. Everything is done to break this woman, but she would rather
throw in the towel than play the game that is confirmation hearing
There are moments where it appears she will break, or throw in the
towel, but the President wont let her. They are in this together
and who better to be at your side in a time of crisis than the Dude,
er I mean Jeff Lebowski Bridges as President Jackson Evans.
Fans of The Big Lebowski
will be glad to see Bridges in the role of Commander-in-Chief. Its
great, because its almost as if the dude did become President,
because there is actually a scene where hes bowling. Tell me
that doesnt rule! Aside from that, Bridges is his usual brilliant
self. I can think of no one I would rather have as President, with
the possible exception of George Carlin. Bridges is every bit the
leader of the free world. He takes his position seriously when he
needs to, but he always manages to break the ice at the most opportune
times. He does this by attempting to catch his cooks off guard by
asking for a meal that they cant deliver. He never seems to
have any success at catching them off guard, but it is something of
a game to him and it is a game that he plans on winning one day. This
is a nice little comic undercurrent that is used with precision and
The rest of the cast deliver with top-shelf performances as well.
Gary Oldman is operating at his usual level of mastery in the role
of Congressman Shelly Runyon. He comes off as the bad guy, but he
really isnt all that bad. Hes just a man of principle,
very much the same as Senator Hanson is a woman of principle. It just
so happens that their principles are in direct conflict with one another
practically every step of the way. William Petersen (Manhunter)
delivers a fine performance as Governor Hathaway. His is a story that
has more to it than meets the eye. It is an integral part of the film
as a whole and plays largely in the ultimate resolution of the films
story. Christian Slater is surprisingly restrained as a young representative
from Delaware with lofty aspirations in his career. Phillip Baker
Hall also shows up for a cameo appearance as Senator Hansons
father. He is brilliant as always.
These great performances are tied together by Director/Writer Rod
Luries mesmerizing screenplay. It is written in the same vein
as the great political thrillers of the past. Heavy on the dialogue
and suspense and light on predictability. A mere fifteen minutes from
the conclusion you still have no idea how it is going to end. Harkening
back to films like Network
it has some great speeches and rapid fire dialogue to carry the story.
Bridges is handed a speech that any President would be proud to deliver
and makes it larger than life. Patriotism drips from every syllable.
When I heard it, it reminded me of what it felt like to be proud of
being an American. None of the performances are easy, because of the
sort of film that this is. If lines arent delivered to perfection
then everything falls apart. The film relies on its performers
to deliver the story moreso than most films, because of the depth
of the screenplay and the lack of any sort of special effects that
most other films rely on.
The Contender is a throwback to the times of yore when
dialogue and great acting were responsible for carrying a film. This
is a rare film nowadays. It stays true to its premise. It will
not compromise. It will not back down. It will not be denied. The
Contender will not allow these things to happen for one very
It wants you to take it seriously.