The Contender (2000): A supercharged and exhilarating political thriller

 

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Joan Allen as Laine Hanson

Rod Lurie’s The Contender is like an Aaron Sorkin film that isn’t written by Aaron Sorkin. It has Jeff Bridges playing the most badass fictional American president ever. But he is not the film’s primary character, even though he is present in nearly ever frame. It’s about a woman, a Senator named Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) who has been chosen as the Vice-Presidential nominee by Jackson Evans, the Democratic President that Bridges plays. Jackson is looking to fill the vacancy left by the former Vice-President who passed away recently. According to many, the smartest choice for this position is Senator Jack Hathaway (William Petersen) and the film begins with him being involved in an incident that is almost similar to Chappaquiddick . The only difference here is that Ted Kennedy ran away from the scene whereas Hathaway tried to rescue the woman. But she dies regardless and this stands as a huge obstacle to his nomination.

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Jeff Bridges as Jackson Evans

Hanson is Evan’s first choice and needless to say, there is opposition from all sides. The person who is most strongly opposed to this idea is a Republican Congressman named Shelley Runyon (Gary Oldman). Runyon has always been a close friend and ardent supporter of Hathaway and this announcement by Evan is like a slap on his face. Runyon tries to dig up some dirt from her past and comes across pictures of her involved in a wild sex party during her college days. Hanson neither confirms nor denies these accusations and maintains that what she did back then is not anyone’s business. Evans is not willing to back down and stands by his decision and her. He gives her instructions on how to handle this whole scandal and tells her not to be embarrassed before the whole confirmation process – which is headed by Runyon – takes place. What we get to see here is a strong female character who, despite being humiliated and attacked by questions regarding her credibility and morality, she maintains a dignity and poise that is rarely seen.

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Gary Oldman as Shelley Runyon

And as I’ve already mentioned before, Bridges is such a badass. As Evans he is a commanding, intimidating and charismatic presence. Can a person be straightforward and diplomatic at the same time? Well, he is that guy. Evans screams POWER. And one thing this character shares with Bridges’ character in The Big Lebowski is his penchant for bowling. I loved the very inspiring speech he gives at the end of the film. Bridges was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this role. There are some neat and pleasant twists at the end that clears up some stuff regarding Hanson and Hathaway. Overall, this is an intriguing and well-written political thriller with some sharp and crackling dialogues that could almost be mistaken for something that is written by Aaron Sorkin. Those who loved Sorkin’s show The West Wing, Netflix’s House of Cards or damn good political thrillers in general would enjoy this film. The performances are strong across the board especially from Bridges, Allen and Oldman.

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