“The Contender,” Revisited
So as I said, this site will not only be featuring reviews of films that I have never before seen, but also brief revisitations to films that I decide to watch again. Ironically enough, the first installment of these is, in my mind, one of the most underrated films of the previous decade and one that I’d love a chance to get on my soapbox for.
“The Contender” was released in 2000 with the helm of writer/director Rod Lurie and tells the story of the first woman ever to be nominated to fill the seat of the Vice President, along with a select group of Republican Congressman intent on destroying her by way of a sex scandal. This is an excellent film that really sets a statute for what political thrillers can be. The writing, while, at times, preachy, is honest and scathing. It is a no-holds-barred account of leadership at the highest level, like “The West Wing” told from a much darker perspective.
Rod Lurie stumbles on a few directorial roadblocks, making it awkwardly cheesy and almost a bit too “Capraesque” at points that don’t help to serve the overall tone of the film. However, it’s the investigation hearings in the House chamber where his style really shines. The mood is stark and realistic. The static camera angles heighten that sense of reality as though you were watching a much more interesting version of C-SPAN 2.
The film features an absolute wealth of stunning acting. Joan Allen definitely carries the weight of the lead role. The audience has little to no trouble standing behind her despite the heaviness of her character’s burdens. Jeff Bridges successfully transforms “The Dude” into a completely desirable presidential figure. Collected, funny and thoroughly inspiring. Many of the smaller roles pull there weight well, including Kathryn Morris, Mike Binder and especially Sam Elliott.
However, the true star of this film and the reason I can watch it over and over again is the magic of Gary Oldman. He embodies this character to a “t” as he does to so many others. His mannerisms and appearance carefully articulate the sense of piety that the congressman he plays holds for those on the other side of the aisle. And he engages us, constantly, just as he engages his enemy, without any sense of remorse or regret. He mercilessly tears through the script and leaves us with an antagonist both hate-inspiring, and yet equally human. By far, it is Oldman’s finest performance. In my eyes, one of the greatest supporting turns of all time, maybe the best of that decade.