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The Contender  

Laine Hanson (Joan Allen)
President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges)
Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman)
Kermit Newman (Sam Elliott)
Reginald Webster (Christian Slater)

Written and Directed by Rod Lurie

Rated R for strong sexual content and language
Running Time: 132 minutes Distributed by Dreamworks
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The Contender is a prominent political thriller about intrigue, deception, gender and power. The film opens with the President of the United States (Bridges) searching for a replacement for the recently passed away Vice President. The President's decision is questioned and appalled when he nominates Senator Laine Hanson (Allen) for the vacancy. The overall shocking reaction is that Hanson, outside of the fact that she was a good senator, if confirmed, would be the first woman to serve as Vice President. After the nomination is revealed, the conformation process begins with Congress. The one man that stands in the way of Hanson and the position is Chairman Shelly Runyon (Oldman), who believes that Hanson has neither the abilities nor promise of filling the job. Runyon quickly conjures up an exploiting sexual game from Hanson's past to manipulate her. While the American people stand in question if the sexual allegations are true, Hanson keeps her composure by quietly stating, "My personal life is no one's business." Thus leading to the harsh struggle for Hanson to show that she is or is not capable of being the Vice President.

The Contender is one of the best political thrillers that I have ever seen. It's content is pounding, believable and precisely detailed.

Former film critic Rod Lurie wrote and directed The Contender. His script is sharp and fabulous. Lurie tackles a very complicated matter that a few people in politics have faced, and he surrounds it with questions, realism and brilliant characters. A aspect that is central in making this script so good is that Lurie opens the doors for you to route for Laine, The President and even Chairman Runyon. The character-enhanced scenes in this film are where Lurie expressed the characters' believable traits. Examples are the President's well being, food ordering choices and Runyon's cigar smoking. One notable choice of connection in the film, is the way Lurie parallels the characters of President Evans and Shelly Runyon. In my opinion, the two were connect by their desires and love to eat and eat often.

Lurie's direction is steady and well ventilated. He captures the pressure of the media and citizens of this country. An example is his powerful shot during the committee hearings, where Runyon and Hanson are on equally spaced black and white television sets. I also found that Lurie's concentration was the character's objectives, not presentation. The only problem that I had with Lurie's direction and script is that he never reveals why President Jackson is so highly recommendable of Laine Hanson.

Joan Allen will probably receive an Oscar nomination for her fiery, yet calm performance as Laine Hanson. Allen is one of the best actresses around and has always been cast in supporting roles. However, The Contender is a film vehicle that she can carry, and she carries it well. Jeff Bridges is delightful as the hungry and kind President Evans. Evan's right-hand man, Kermit Newman (Elliott) is played explosively by the always-great Sam Elliott. Last but not least, Gary Oldman gives a slick and engaging performance as Chairman Shelly Runyon. Along with Allen, remember Oldman and Bridges' names come Oscar time.

The Contender is an immense film that reminded me a lot of All the President's Men. This film could very well get a bundle of nominations come award season.

Report Card Grade: A-

Beastman's Movie Reviews
Copyright, 2000 Joseph C. Tucker

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