The Contender

The Contender


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

There have been so many White House movies, from Dave through The American President to 13 Days, that you begin to recognise the rooms.

The Contender is different. It's about the machinations of power, rather than immorality and cynicism at the top. The period is post-Clinton. President Jackson Evans, already half way through his second term, is also a Democrat and a charmer, although not, as far as you can tell, sexually obsessed.

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The Vice President died three weeks ago and there is pressure to name a successor. The man everyone expects to get the job is deftly discarded in favour of Senator Laine Hanson, a controversial nomination, considering her pro-choice feminist convictions.

This infuriates Republican stalwart Shelly Runyon, who chairs a congressional investigation into the appointment, during which aspects of her personal life, including an alleged gang bang at college, are unceremoniously exposed.

The script by rookie director and ex-film critic, Rob Lurie, is intelligent and surprising. Stereotypes are blown away to make room for character developement and the expected rejected as too reminiscent of a Kevin Costner moment.

The President uses flattery as camouflage to hide his true intentions and Jeff Bridges plays him with consummate ease. The performances are universally excellent, with Joan Allen supreme and Gary Oldman outstanding.

She has a natural authority that transforms the Senator into a woman of integrity, who remains unpolluted in a dung heap of innuendo. He is unrecognisable as the Congressman, with a moth eaten rug on his head and heavy spectacles.

For an actor more accustomed to excess (Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Fifth Element), this is an astonishing achievement. Set up as the baddy, who wants to destroy Hanson's reputation because he believes her unfit for high office, Runyon remains true to his convictions.

Lurie's politics are neither black nor white. He plays on uneven surfaces and appears more interested in food.

"We're both sticking to our guns," Runyon says. "The difference is that mine are loaded."

How do you like your steak, Shelly? Bloody, or burnt?

Reviewed on: 19 Apr 2001
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The Contender packshot
Rival vice-presidential candidates are embroiled in battle of PR and intrigue in this intelligent political satire.
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Read more The Contender reviews:

Symon Parsons ****

Director: Rob Lurie

Writer: Rob Lurie

Starring: Gary Oldman, Joan Allen, Jeff Bridges, Christian Slater, William Petersen, Philip Baker Hall, Saul Rubinek, Sam Elliott

Year: 2000

Runtime: 125 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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