An interesting and well-acted movie, The Contender sadly lags behind other political films simply because it never really moves into the first gear that you expect it to. There’s a very enjoyable finale, admittedly, but it still leaves the whole thing just feeling a little bit unspectacular, a little bit flat. Then again, perhaps that’s just the world of politics at times.
Joan Allen plays Laine Hanson, a woman about to be sworn in as Vice President if the President Of The United States (Jeff Bridges) has his way. Unfortunately, there are a number of people who think that Laine Hanson has been picked purely because she is a woman. Shelly Runyon (played by Gary Oldman) is firmly opposed to her, especially when he believes that he knows someone else much more deserving of the title, and so is Reginald Webster (Christian Slater), a young man looking to further his career in the political arena. Yet Laine Hanson seems like a great choice, she’s a smart woman with a decent moral compass and the urge to do whatever is best for the country and her President. Which is all well and good until some photos come to light that apparently show the good lady in an embarrassing sexual escapade that took place in her wilder, younger days.
The Contender is an interesting film for a number of reasons. While it’s, sadly, never quite as thrilling or dramatic as audiences may expect it just slides everything into place so well and allows viewers to keep thinking about the issues raised from beginning to end. Issues that include the impact of selfless acts, dignity and loyalty, prejudicial views based on gender and, of course, political manouvering done to benefit individuals rather than an entire nation.
Writer-director Rod Lurie never rushes anything and knows that the material is solid and that it’s being delivered by a cast on great form. Joan Allen is superb throughout, extremely easy to sympathise with and root for. Jeff Daniels makes for an amusing President, but also a pretty believable one (even when he keeps trying to order ridiculous recipes from the kitchen in an attempt to one day catch them off guard). Gary Oldman adds yet another classic performance to his long roster of classic performances, it’s easy to see that Shelly Runyon is quite a horrible, sneaky man but it’s also easy to see just how much he believes himself to be in the right and how misguided he is, rather than outright evil. Sam Elliott, as Kermit Newman (right hand man to the President), reminds you of just why he’s so great to watch onscreen, Christian Slater is excellent and William Petersen impresses with another, all-too-rare, film appearance that shows how much more there is to the man beyond just being Gil Grissom.
It may not be your first choice when you’re deciding on a decent movie to watch but The Contender is well worth your time and deserves to remain . . . . . . . . . . . . well . . . . . . . . . . . a contender.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: ROD LURIE
STARS: JOAN ALLEN, GARY OLDMAN, JEFF BRIDGES, SAM ELLIOTT, WILLIAM PETERSEN, CHRISTIAN SLATER, PHILIP BAKER HALL
RUNTIME: 126 MINS APPROX