Click here for IMDB's info on The Contender
By Sharon Fulton
As I watched "The Contender", the overused cliché, "this is an important film", kept darting through my mind. Later when a friend asked me how I liked the movie, I said, "Oh, it's amazing." Then, I shrugged my shoulders and succumbed to my more pompous instinct, and I proclaimed, "I might even say this is an IMPORTANT film." Why?
First off, "The Contender" boasts compelling direction, a gripping script, and outstanding acting. In his first scene, the director, Rod Lurie, shoots a car careening off an overpass, and he uses this event to propel the audience into a vice presidential appointment process. Lurie utilizes the shock we experience from witnessing this car accident to prep us for another kind of shock; wouldn't you feel some startle if the president asked you to become VP? One plunge describes another. For the rest of the movie, Lurie takes us behind the scenes in Washington, and, as we spy, we grasp the prowess and viciousness of politicians.
Lurie also wrote the script, and he captures how the people of politics select their words. When someone speaks, we need to hear what she says and decide what she is really saying. My favorite line: "Not guilty, but responsible".
We espy politicians, not actors playing politicians. The acting is that good. Joan Allen carries the picture with her powerful portrayal of the vice-presidential appointee prospect in question, Laine Hanson. Her character exudes strength and intelligence, but we also see a worldly-wise person. When her political rival, Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman), links her with a sex scandal, we believe it could have happened. Whatever might be in her past, she takes responsibility, stays silent, and retains her dignity.
Gary Oldman is one of my favorite actors, and I realized yesterday that I have seen all of his movies. As time passes, he improves and disappears. Disappears? In "The Contender", we watch a republican justice from Illinois, not a British actor. I forgot that I was seeing my favorite actor. Jeff Bridges is also a standout as the president. He struts to intimidate. Just watch how he orders food.
Second, "The Contender" appears appropriately right before the presidential election, when we all evaluate what merits good leadership. When the Monica Lewinski scandal sullied every headline, the American public questioned if a person's private "values" should factor into our choice for a leader. However, if every leader must submit to an exposé of her past, will good leaders be scared off? "The Contender" asks the same questions.
Third, the movie confronts sexism in America. Obviously, the story presents a woman as a candidate for vice president, and, doing so, the movie gives us a competent, self-sufficient, leading woman. Hollywood seldom centers a film on a strong woman. (Never?) The film also suggests many reasons why white, Protestant (except Kennedy), males have always held the executive office.
I thought about "The Contender" as I left the theatre, and I ruminate about it still. I would love to discuss the ending with someone. I guess that is why "important" rings in my head. "The Contender" broaches significant and controversial issues with style and precision; moreover, the film makes me want to discuss them.