"He doesn't know his left from his right ...
but he knows right from wrong."
The Contender
Review by Ross Anthony

I spoke with writer/director Rod Lurie a few months back about his previous release, "Deterrence." We spoke at a Burbank studio as he edited reels of his new film "The Contender." He was extremely energetic, never at a loss The Contenderfor words, a man with a plan. Nor did it distress him in the least that my review of his first film was mixed. Clearly, that film proved to be the last practice he needed, because this new "Contender" takes the prize money.

The film's slug line, "Sometimes you can assassinate a leader without firing a shot," sets the stage. This political thriller is as compelling and nearly as exciting as an action piece, but without a single explosion or gunshot. I suppose that's what you might expect from a "political-junkie" filmmaker who says, "Presidential election years are like football seasons to me."

When the Vice President dies, the President (Jeff Bridges) must choose a replacement. Though several fine choices are discussed, he decides to back Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen). Both parties' house members aren't happy with this selection. One adversary (Gary Oldman), in particular, is so dead set on discrediting her, that he's willing to risk his career to do it. Not unlike the American politics we're used to, the debate quickly descends into trash attacks, sex scandal and some plain and simple sexist stabbings.

The script does a fine job of toying with our own sexist triflings. For instance, before introduced on screen, Allen is referred to by her last name only, letting us all assume she's male; while we're left to suppose her adversary, Shelly Runyon, is female. The twists and turns, strong rich characters (brought alive by an excellent cast of actors) as even smellier poop hits the fan, keep this dialogue-based feature thrilling.

Criticism? Only two petty ones. For a moment there, I felt the film was simply treading water ... but only for a second. Later in the film, an FBI agent gives an over the top mushy couple of lines to a Presidential cabinet member whose reply in contrast is dynamite. But these are trivial blemishes.

I'm not even terribly fond of this genre, but I loved this film. The script and the acting are simply commanding. Joan Allen is as rock solid as Laine Hanson. You'll leave the theater energized.

  • The Contender. Copyright © 2000.
  • Starring Joan Allen, Jeff Bridges, Gary Oldman, Christian Slater, William Petersen, Sam Elliott, Philip Baker Hall.
  • Written and directed by Rod Lurie.
  • Produced by Marc Frydman, Douglas Urbanski, Willi Baer, James Spies at DreamWorks/Cinerenta/Cinecontender/Battleground(C)2000. Rated R.


Copyright © 2000. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit: RossAnthony.com

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:16:58 PDT