The Contender is not a movie that was made just so that it could be released during election year; it is a movie that is one of the best political films I’ve seen yet.
Politics can be a dangerous thing to enter into. As we see increasingly, it is not what a candidate stands for or how they’ve voted in the past; moreover it is their “character” that sways most voters. And although some may find this disgusting, it is just how things work nowadays. The Contender puts out this message with a bolded exclamation mark at the end. As the movie opens, the Vice President of the US has been dead for some three weeks. No one has taken the spot yet, but there are two contenders to the position. One is flat out turned down, that is the governor of Virginia, Jack Hathaway (William Petersen), by the President. The President, Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) has another contender in mind. She is Laine Hanson (Joan Allen). Hanson is a woman of principles and she will stick to her principles no matter what. When a sex scandal involving her breaks out she sticks with her principles that such personal matters don’t matter when being considered for the office of Vice President. The chairman of the confirmation hearings, Congressman Sheldon Runyon (a completely unrecognizable Gary Oldman) does think that such scandalous things should be taken into consideration and he makes it hard for the President to get Hanson confirmed for the office.
The film is written and directed by Rod Lurie and he does a wonderful job with both. The script is tense where it needs to be and complex enough not to make me feel like an outsider of Washington and it is also dumbed down enough on the other hand that some of the things that I didn’t know about Washington were explained. Kudos to Rod Lurie for a wonderful film. Lurie though has to thank his three big actors in the film for giving some wonderful performances that bring the film to higher level.
The first and best performance of the film is Jeff Bridge’s as the President. Bridges plays the President with such passion that it’s hard not to imagine him as the President. His speech at the end of the film is one of the best I’ve seen. Bridge’s performance of the President draws a lot from our current President Clinton. The consummate politician that is under control in public and short on the fuse in private, Bridges deserves a pat on the back for such a first-rate performance. Gary Oldman gives a good performance also, although with Oldman it’s hard to find a time when he’s not giving a good performance. And Joan Allen gets the spotlight of the film. The two warring men, Evans and Runyon, bounce around her character and she does a fine job at showing how strong her character is and we are quick to be sympathetic to her cause and her beliefs.
The one thing that bothered me about the film, and this is only a minor complaint, is the tacked on feel of the FBI investigation that runs as a small subplot throughout the film. It seemed hastily written and throughout the subplot scenes I was lost, that is until it all tied back together at the end. The ending of the film is quick and you’ll have to pay attention to a clue of how it will end early on in the film. This sprinkling of the facts was a nice touch by Lurie.
A good film is both timely and timeless, The Contender is both, and it will surely be remembered as a classic. Don’t Miss The Contender.