Thoroughly relaxed and in love with his job, he uses humor to lighten the pomposity around him, but dispatches enemies with brilliant scheming.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

The Contender is terrific. In spite of implausible plot twists, three outstanding performers turn the movie into a searing satire of contemporary presidential politics. It doesn't matter whether the scandal of a given moment is about money, sex, or power. What matters is that the advisors who surround politicians wouldn't know a principle if they tripped over it. Obsessed with nursing the spin, the polls, the advertising, and the fund-raising, they care only about following their man to the White House. This movie is full of the dark shadows of Chappaquiddick, the Clarence Thomas hearings, the Clinton impeachment, and evangelical self-righteousness. This is a good one.

Democratic President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) must fill the slot left vacant by the recent death of his Vice President. He has two candidates: Jack Hathaway (William Petersen), a popular governor suddenly in the news for a heroic public act, and Laine Hanson (Joan Allen), an elegant, smart, highly principled senator from Ohio. Throwing his lot with Senator Hanson, President Evans relishes his legacy of being the first President to raise a woman to the office. Instead of the smooth sailing he anticipates, he and the senator are hit by the prudish outrage of Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman), who happens to be head of the House Judiciary Committee, which will hold the Hanson confirmation hearings.

As evidence of a college sex scandal emerges from Senator Hanson's past, witnesses crawl from the depths of their failed lives to grab their five minutes of TV notoriety. Senator Hanson refuses comment: "I'll talk to your committee on any subject except my private life." A typical predator remarks, "We have to make her die in her own blood; we're going to obliterate a life."

A terrific cast runs wild with the material. Christian Slater is fine as the young representative trying to decide whether to grow up to be a good guy or a hack. Jeff Bridges has a grand old time playing Bill Clinton. Thoroughly relaxed and in love with his job, he uses humor to lighten the pomposity around him, but dispatches enemies with brilliant scheming. Gary Oldman is riveting as the outraged prig with power. His Representative Runyon oozes sleaze from every pore, an unctuous priss mired in a hatred that must inevitably consume its master.

In a performance that soars in dignity tinged with a sense of fun, Joan Allen gives us the politician we all want, one who spits out her beliefs with utter clarity: "I'm pro-choice; I'm for campaign reform, for taking guns out of every house, and for separation of church and state to protect our government from the grasp of religious fanatics." Even if you are on the opposite side of every one of those issues, surely you will breathe deeply of the fresh air of candor. The Contender reminds us how far we and our candidates have sunk into the silliness of being all things to all people.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 496
Studio : Dreamworks
Rating : R
Running time : 2h12m

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