The Contender (2000) / Thriller-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for strong sexual content and language
Running Time: 126 min.

Cast: Joan Allen, Gary Oldman, Jeff Bridges, Sam Elliott, Christian Slater
Rod Lurie
Screenplay: Rod Lurie
Review published April 13, 2001

Former film critic turned writer/director Rod Lurie (The Last Castle, Resurrecting the Champ) serves up another savvy political drama (after last year's sleeper Deterrence) that ranks as one of the better films in 2000.

Jeff Bridges (The Muse, Arlington Road) plays the President, on his way out of his final term, who must look for a replacement when his Vice President dies while in office. The obvious choice for the job is Governor Jack Hathaway (Manhunter, To Live and Die in LA), hailed as a bona fide hero after jumping into an icy cold river to try to save the life of a young woman who drives off a bridge. Instead, the President surprises everyone by choosing Senator Laine Hanson (Allen, Face/Off), a woman, but complications by people who want her to lose the confirmation and nominate Hathaway ensue and graphic depictions of a sordid past as a freshman in college surface involving orgies and sexual promiscuities. The distraught Senator decides to battle through these accusations, refusing to accept or deny the validity of anything claiming it's none of the nation's business.

Lurie's sparkling dialogue, clever insights, and choice of quality actors all buoy The Contender from being one of the best political dramas since Primary Colors. Allen, Bridges, and in particular Gary Oldman (Lost in Space, Air Force One) as the confirmation chairman deliver incredible performaces and Lurie's spot-on direction seemingly never falters (the exception: a sappy epliogue).

 Fresh issues arise from the drama, including sexual double standards, separation of church and state, and abortion, which are all presented in compelling and thought-provoking ways. Best of all, while the events would seem a bit larger than life, it remains convincingly realistic throughout. Controversial but smart, it is a real shame there's not much marketability for politically ambitious dramas such as this anymore. Recommended for political junkies and anyone else looking for an intelligent, complex drama.

Qwipster's rating::

2001 Vince Leo