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Overall Rating

Awesome: 17.33%
Worth A Look: 24%
Average: 20%
Pretty Bad26.67%
Total Crap: 12%

7 reviews, 33 user ratings

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Contender, The
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by Erik Childress

"Great Performances Highlight the Most Overrated Film of the Year"
3 stars

ďIf they can make headlines with lies, we can make bigger headlines with the truth.Ē No thatís not a line from The Contender, but rather from 1988ís Tucker: The Man and His Dream. That quote becomes relevant once again here, for not only does the new film contain many of the principal players from that earlier work (Joan Allen, Jeff Bridges & Christian Slater), but the quote is quite significant for The Contender, a film that reflects what the world of politics have been reduced to in our times. But like a reflection doesnít measure up to the real thing and the better movies that have come before it.

Democratic President Jackson Evans is looking to leave his legacy. Heís on the final years of a two-term Presidency and his vice-president has died unexpectedly. The front-runner, Jack Hathaway (William L. Petersen), has just been involved with a Chappaquiddick-like incident, giving Evans a chance to nominate whom he wanted in the first place, Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen). Republican Shelley Runyon (Gary Oldman) isnít very happy about the decision, and being in the position of heading up the nomination committee, heís ready to cut her down by dredging up her explicit sexual past. Sound familiar?

The Contender is not the first film to tackle the issue of public politics vs. private lives and it certainly wonít be the last. This one though will probably be remembered as the first film to come out in the post-Lewinsky era to deal exclusively with these issues. Primary Colors came out in 1998 just as that story was getting hot, but that film also dealt with running a campaign and why that candidate would be good for the country. The American President was in 1995 and, while being a romantic comedy, is still the best film to ever deal with the political and public views of a Presidentís personal life. The Contender isnít anywhere near the class of those two films.

Where its class is formed is in some great performances, starting with what hopefully should be a sure nominee in Gary Oldman. He turns Senator Runyon into a working portrait of pride and shortsightedness, perfectly willing to destroy anotherís career in pursuit of his own interests. Even if you want to see him get his comeuppance immediately, you welcome every appearance he makes because the film jumps to life every time heís on screen. Jeff Bridges brings a lot of class and humor to the role of a President who seems more concerned with making on-the-spot orders to the White House chef than actually doing presidential things. And Joan Allen is also terrific as the VP nominee, cementing the buzz surrounding that best actress category. Witness the moment when some information is discovered about Runyonís past and how Hanson must make a decision in a key scene whether or not to use it. That is world-class acting.

And just when everything seems to be falling into place for an above average political drama, The Contender cops out faster than you can say ďno balls.Ē After a very silly plot twist that you can see coming miles away, thereís another one that negates a lot of what has been going on and calls into question at what point must pride be stepped over in favor of common sense, a trait which is the real loss in America. Without ruining it for anyone, just think about the first time you see Laine Hanson when this bombshell is dropped late in the film. The Contender wants to have its pie and eat it too.

Character motivations are never stretched out beyond one-line explanations. Evans wants a legacy. Runyon is upset for getting beat by Evans for the head office. Hanson believes her private life is nobodyís business. All fine, but it feels like the meat is there without the gravy. Does Runyon actually believe the stance heís taking. How good a president is Evans? Why is Laine Hanson so qualified to serve alongside him? How does the public feel with all this going on? Why not explore the shortsightedness and personal agendas of the politicians in the wake of public support for the candidate (as it occurred with Clinton)? We never get a sense for the publicís view on the whole situation, which is an essential part of strengthening why such political attacks are unwarranted. They act like itís in the publicís best interest, but the public has come out time and time again in a majority saying that they donít care.

Rod Lurie, a former film critic, now has two feature films under his belt that heís written and directed, both of them released in the year 2000. The other film, Deterrence, also dealt with issues of politics and had a snow-trapped President giving the order to nuke Iraq from a roadside diner. That film, while silly and perhaps totally implausible, still had a gripping feel to it. The Contender avoids the silliness, and is compelling most of the time thanks to the first-rate performances delivered by the three principals. Nevertheless, it feels like the work of filmmaker who knows to shape and tell a story, but simply an uncomplicated story that tackles the issues and avoids them at the same time. It presents an authenticity that feels more staged than believable. It lacks the emotion where Primary Colors, The American President and any single episode of TVís The West Wing delivers. The title of the film is more representative of its Oscar possibilities than it is about the mud-slinging world of politics. Ironically enough, the filmís opening credits are played under a cover version of Ring of Fire co-sung by none other than Jeff Bridges. Just like the movie, it may sound good but its nothing like the real thing.

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originally posted: 10/13/00 16:08:38
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User Comments

1/20/09 dj waterman Silly and Fake, this movie also has a fake-out ending. Unrealistic and bombastic. 2 stars
11/25/07 Ron Patterson Best damn film I have seen all year! 5 stars
6/30/07 fools♫gold A lovable movie that I underrate about as much as I underrate the remake of The Wicker Man. 4 stars
8/18/05 ES I was honestly cheering for Hathaway, ending is a let down 2 stars
9/04/03 David Tomlin Stupid. Unsophosticated. Implausible. Good performances. Titillating sex. 2 stars
5/24/03 K.B Again This film was so bad i had to vote for it again. 1 stars
3/21/03 Jack Sommersby Purposeless, overlong, and just plain boring. Bridges and Oldman are outstanding, though. 2 stars
3/05/03 K. B Pure left-wing bullshit propaganda. I rather watch Batman & Robin again then this trash. 1 stars
1/20/03 Joesco Excellent performances from Bridges and Allen who breathes integrity 4 stars
11/16/02 Big Ted Wonderful Film. Gary Oldman deserved the Oscar nod over Bridges though. 5 stars
5/26/02 Jessica Davis Just a vanity project that fails to address anything about qualifications for a V.P. 2 stars
10/16/01 phil m. afficiando Good cast , acting, and premise; too narrow and contrived to satisfy. Missed opportunity. 3 stars
10/01/01 Bada Bing Crosby Has something to say about prejudice, the double-standard & Muenster cheese 4 stars
8/06/01 Bash . 2 stars
6/21/01 Jim Renwick democratic's good guys; republican's bad guys. Which one are u? 3 stars
5/12/01 DREDD it trys to make clinton look good, but it's full of shit 2 stars
4/29/01 The Jedi Droid so lemme see if I got this right...Gladiator was a better movie than this??? I THINK NOT!! 5 stars
4/16/01 The Bomb 69 never would happen in real life but a gripping political drama nonetheless 5 stars
4/02/01 Chuck D Eh, kinda preachy, I loved the "Big Lebowski" reference though, god that was classic 2 stars
3/28/01 Monday Morning Hey Godfather, try some Prep-H on those 'roids. This is good, smart entertainment. 4 stars
3/26/01 nowak Pro-Clinton, manipulative s**t. 2 stars
3/20/01 Kriperace Another thinly-disguised left wing diatribe. Typical of H'wood. 2 stars
3/17/01 Dracco Way to spell Satan Godfather. Now who's the retarded snail? 5 stars
3/13/01 Rhythm Blankenhorn The Godfather must be a right-winger. Very good movie for moderates 4 stars
3/13/01 tinsley7 Very Good Movie! If you pay attention that is. 4 stars
3/04/01 Suzz trite, predictable and boring 2 stars
2/02/01 Benway truly terrible example of Hollywood mythmaking at its worst and an insult to smart women 1 stars
11/18/00 Edward A Leonard Too Womens-Lib, also kisses Bill Clinton's Anus 2 stars
11/09/00 Patti Great performances, although a fairy-tale ending 5 stars
11/02/00 Ilie Agopian Below average script, implausible plot, Sam Elliot & Gary Oldman = good performance 2 stars
10/16/00 frankko good performances, crap-ass ending 2 stars
10/16/00 Politicsman Read Eric's Review, add two stars. Very timely, ranks with other great political films 5 stars
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  13-Oct-2000 (R)


  22-Mar-2001 (M)

Directed by
  Rod Lurie

Written by
  Rod Lurie

  Jeff Bridges
  Joan Allen
  Gary Oldman
  Sam Elliot
  Christian Slater
  William L. Petersen

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