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The Contender

Posted by martinteller on October 6, 2014

With the recent death of the Vice President, President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) is looking for a replacement.  One of his top candidates is Governor Jack Hathaway (William Petersen), whose recent attempt to save a drowning woman has generated a lot of buzz.  But Evans turns instead to Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen), partly because installing a woman into the Executive Office would help secure his own legacy.  However, the chairman of the confirmation committee, Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman), is a Hathaway loyalist.  With the help of freshman Congressman Reginald Webster (Christian Slater), Runyon digs up a lurid episode from Hanson’s past to confront her with.

Although largely forgotten (at least, I can’t recall the film ever being mentioned anywhere), this is a pretty satisfying political drama.  Allen is quite good in the lead… her character is too principled to be truly authentic, but she sells it well enough and makes her nobility convincing.  More believable is Oldman’s slimy manipulator, who comes off exactly like the type of maneuvering opportunist we know most politicians to be.  Slater is kind of a zero, as expected, but it’s always fun to see Sam Elliot (as the Chief Adviser)… and sans moustache, no less!

The movie does get rather schmaltzy at the end, and even “The West Wing” (which was just starting its second season at the time) was better at keeping its stirring idealism and liberal heroism in check.  But for the most part, it’s interesting to watch the action unfold.  And these are ideals worth championing.  Sadly, nearly a decade and a half later, we still maintain an unfair double standard when it comes to private sexual matters, but it’s nice to see someone addressing the issue… even if they do it with some swelling music and a hokey clapping scene.

There are two revelations in the film that one could call twists.  One of them genuinely caught me by surprise, but the other was telegraphed far too early.  It becomes a matter of impatiently waiting for the reveal we know is coming.  I’m not a screenwriter and I’m not sure how I would have done it better… you wouldn’t want it to come out of the clear blue sky either.  Perhaps just moving one scene to a spot later in the film would suffice.  It’s not a disaster, though, and the movie is entertaining enough to hold your attention.  The running gag about Bridges’s esoteric demands on the White House kitchen is a hoot.  Rating: Good (78)


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