By Fred Harvey
The History Place
This is the biggest political sermon to come out
of Hollywood since Reverend Warren Beatty gave us the ultra preachy
The Contender, written and directed by
Rod Lurie, takes a somewhat sanctimonious stance against the politics of
personal destruction. As we know, Bill Clinton's Hollywood buddies were
aghast at the never-ending attacks on his personal conduct by Republican
Congressmen during the 1998 impeachment saga. Democrats in the House frequently
responded to long-winded anti-Clinton diatribes with the refrain: "The
politics of personal destruction must end!"
Now, if you were to say to yourself - that sounds
like a good theme for a movie. Well, this would pretty much be it. This
is Hollywood's instruction to us on how to fix things in America, by
adopting a live-and-let-live policy regarding the past personal lives of politicians.
Weirdly, the film begins with a Chappaquiddick-like
scene in which Governor Jack Hathaway, played by William Petersen, attempts
to rescue a woman inside a car that has just plunged off a narrow bridge.
Unfortunately for Gov. Hathaway, even the remotest resemblance to Chappaquiddick
is enough to sink his chances to become the next Vice President of the
United States. The current VP died unexpectedly while in office, thus the
rush is on to find a replacement.
Instead of Hathaway, President Jackson Evans,
played by Jeff Bridges, chooses a woman, Senator Laine Hanson, who is well-played
by Joan Allen (for whom this script was actually written). President Evans
is nearing the end of his second term, so his nomination of Laine is huge,
in that she would be a likely candidate for President in the coming election.
But it turns out there's a very powerful member
of Congress that's been waiting for a chance to dish
out some political payback to the President. Congressman Shelly Runyon,
played by Gary Oldman (who executive produced the film) has decided he
will devote all of his energy toward defeating Laine's nomination.
Runyon proceeds to dig up some really bad dirt
on her, including nude photos allegedly taken during a wild college sex
party. Laine reacts to publication of those photos on the Internet by declaring
that what she did way back then is her own business and she refuses to
comment on the current allegations.
Making matters worse, she must now endure a humiliating
confirmation hearing in the House chaired by her new arch-enemy, Runyon.
Aided by an ambitious young Congressman played by Christian Slater, Runyon
attacks Laine by alternately insulting her and baiting her, hoping she
will lose her cool.
This is good stuff, dramatically, the product
of a well-written script. The show-down between the overbearing, manipulative
Runyon and quiet, long-suffering Laine is very engaging. We really do care
about this woman, even if we disagree with her political point of view
- she's pro-choice, pro-gun control, and pro everything likely to annoy
conservatives watching this movie.
The stoic Laine endures a firestorm of criticism
until the day finally arrives when President Evans must decide whether
to keep her as the nominee or dump her. The film's big ending has a few
neat surprises that will maintain your interest until the final credits
Fans of the American TV program The West Wing
and older political movies such as Robert Redford's The Candidate
will enjoy The Contender. But just hold onto your hat because you're
gonna get blasted with a dose of Hollywood politics, like it or not.
Rated R for language.