The Contender

The Contender


Reviewed by: Symon Parsons

Politics is a dirty business and lacking heroes, so when Jack Hathaway (William Peterson) risks his life in an attempt to save a drowning girl he would seem the obvious choice for the vacant post of Vice-President to President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges).

But the Prez is determined that his legacy will be to leave a woman in high office, so he goes against the grain of public opinion and nominates Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) for the post. Enter Hathaway supporter Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman), as that most dangerous of men, Someone Who Understands The Need For a Greater Good.

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Determined to have his man as VP, he chairs a committee with the sole aim of destroying Laine Hanson. ("The public will believe me. And you know why? Because I'll have a big microphone in front of me.") And it doesn't look too difficult for him, as it seems that Laine has some unfortunate skeletons in her cupboard, most notably a frat-party gang-bang in her college years.

Desperate to salvage the situation, the President's right-hand man (Sam Elliot) attempts to turn the tables on Runyon, only to find mere stock irregularities in his past. ("Stocks?! That's all you can get me! I want something deviant! Midgets! Boys! Animals!")

But are any of the participants in this political game what they seem? And will idealistic young Senator Webster (Christian Slater) have the stomach to assassinate Laine Hanson's character publicly?

The most intelligent political satire to come along since Bob Roberts, The Contender is by turns fascinating, funny and horrifying. Especially the ever-wonderful Gary Oldman, all self-righteous ire and fury on the committee, while schmoozing and manoeuvering behind the scenes, secure in the belief that He Knows Best.

Jeff Bridges also does a wonderful, funny turn as the Reaganesque, food-obsessed President, who may or may not be a darn sight smarter than he pretends.

The Contender takes a vicious swipe at the moral McCarthyism and humbuggery that has taken over modern politics, and the continuing double-standards applying to men and women in public office. If it abandons its early cynicism for a Capra conclusion, in which Jeff puts on his Jimmy Stewart hat and delivers a barnstorming speech, well I see nothing wrong with this.

After all, if George Bush: The Sequel and Tony Blair can't provide us with principled examples of leadership, then I reckon it's only right that Hollywood should.

Reviewed on: 11 Apr 2001
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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:

Angus Wolfe Murray ****

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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