The Contender (2000)
Written and Directed by: Rod Lurie
Starring: Joan Allen, Jeff Bridges, Gary Oldman, Christian Slater, Sam Elliott, William Petersen, Saul Rubinek
Best tagline ever: "Sometimes you can assassinate a leader without firing a shot."
Following the death of the Vice President, POTUS Jackson Evans (Bridges) nominates a woman, Senator Laine Hanson (Allen) to fill the suddenly empty office. Hanson, who recently switched from the Republican to the Democratic party, seems like the perfect choice at first, but as the confirmation committee chairman, Congressman Shelley Runyon (Oldman), begins investigating her, sexual indiscretions in her past come to light and threaten to ruin her career.
You guys know I'm a big fan of political dramas (Hello! West Wing!), so I was excited to watch this movie. It's one of those movies that has been on my "I need to watch this at some point" list for literally years, but I just never got around to it until now. I really loved it. I felt like it hearkened back to the political thrillers from the 1970s -- All the President's Men, for example -- which, according to the DVD commentary, is what Rod Lurie was going for when he wrote the screenplay. Lurie did a great job as director, especially since he had only directed one feature length film before The Contender.
I especially liked the characters in the film aren't black and white; they're all made up of shades of gray. There aren't good guys and bad guys (although some might see it that way), just people who share very different political/moral/social views. It's interesting how a character you despise one moment can become sympathetic the next, or how someone who at first doesn't seem like the sharpest tool in the shed turns out to have a brilliant plan to get out of a sticky situation.
Joan Allen was incredible as always, as was Jeff Bridges -- both received Academy Award nominations for their performances. This may actually be my favorite performance by Allen, although I did love her in Pleasantville so it's a tough call. Plus, "The Dude" as the President! What more could you ask for? A scene with Bridges bowling? Sure, no problem, it's in there! There's also a running gag with the President constantly ordering food from the White House kitchen, which brings a bit of levity to the serious subject matter of the film. Gary Oldman is almost completely unrecognizable (but that's pretty normal for him) as Runyon. Allen & Lurie tell a funny story on the DVD commentary about how when Oldman came on set the first day of shooting in his costume, no one realized it was him at first...they just thought it was some random person wandering around on set. Ha! Christian Slater also does a nice job as a freshman Democratic congressman who isn't so sure about drinking the Kool-Aid when it comes to confirming Hanson.
Overall, I liked the realism of what goes on behind the scenes of government -- all the wheeling and dealing, of course, but also how our political leaders are human just like the rest of us. They're certainly not saints; sometimes they are willing to push their morals to the side to get what they want, or they allow personal grudges to get in the way of what is best for their constituents. Some people might say the ending is a little cheesy or expected, but I liked the hopeful feel of it. The President's final speech is wonderful, and I liked the way his speaking was intercut with Hanson jogging at Arlington National Cemetery. I would suggest this movie to anyone who is a fan of politics particularly, or of behind-the-scenes movies/television shows in general.