The Contender is a political drama written and directed by Rod Lurie, and stars Joan Allen, Gary Oldman, Jeff Bridges, Christian Slater and William Petersen. The story revolves around political nominees running for Vice President under President Jackson Evans (Bridges), although many scandals face each contender. Specifically, white male nominee Jack Hathaway (Petersen) could not save a girl from drowning, and so white female nominee Laine Hanson (Allen) becomes the favored individual. However, her being a woman seems to hinder her victory as sexism and misogyny plague Washington DC- and the scandal that arises which allegedly show her performing sexual acts on a few men from decades ago also harm her in the race. From that point on in the story, lies, secrets, and other scandals keep the movie moving quickly. I’m not one for political movies as they sometimes can be a tad tedious to watch, but I actually enjoyed this film quite a bit in many ways. There were quite a few aspects that I loved about the film, some that I thought were effective but could have been improved, and a few things that I very much did not like at all, and I will outline all of them in this review.
Let’s start with the great and work out way down, shall we? First of all, the performances were fantastic! Joan Allen as our protagonist did an amazing job portraying her character- she brought so much honesty, innocence, and a sort of political regality that would definitely get my vote in a campaign. When her character needed to be vulnerable, that’s exactly what she showed us, and when her character needed to be tough and strict, she brought that too in fantastic ways. She same goes for Jeff Bridges as President Jackson Evans, and Gary Oldman as Shelly Runyon- the antagonist in the film. Each of those actors did wonderful jobs in grounding the story with honest and intelligent performances. There wasn’t a moment in any of these three performances that I didn’t take seriously, and the nominations of Allen and Bridges for their respective roles were well deserved.
The performances wouldn’t have meant anything, however, if the story wasnt good- so thank goodness it was… good. As mentioned, some political films tend to be a tad unoriginal in some ways, which make the film less than interesting to watch. While this film did not break new ground, it kept me entertained which is the least I can ask a film to do. The story in this film wasn’t really great in any way, it was unpredictable for the most part but as a whole it didn’t strike me as something I’ll remember or want to see again anytime soon (just based on the story). Another thing that was strong was the direction and cinematography; the only problem with those two things, however, lies in my most negative aspect of the film, which I will get to later. The camera work in one scene with Bridges, Slater, and a shark steak sandwich was incredible, and I recommend that you watch that scene alone, and out of context, and maybe even with the volume off- just so that you can focus on what the screen is trying to tell you visually. Then, watch it again in context with the volume on and pay attention to the background. As they walk around talking, we are shown paintings of different presidents behind them, and I take these to represent the ideals that Bridges’ President is discussing. It’s a potentially very well executed scene, and I hope it wasn’t simply coincidence or by accident!
The last thing that I loved about this film was the unapologetic political views that it had: the bad guy was pro-life, the hero was an athiest, etc- and I’m not saying that one has to be a certain thing to be right, but you have to be accepting of those who agree and disagree with you to be right. This film offered up something different in those regards, and I guarantee that some audience members were turned off by that, but I applaud the desire to be different in this story, Rod Lurie. However, the end of the film (while being powerful and having one of the greatest on-screen speeches I’ve seen) seemed a tad preachy, and I thought that subtly instead of being so forward would be much more persuasive as a call to action for the audience. I’m turned off by a preachy film because I don’t need my intelligence insulted, I can just fine figure out what the film is telling me on my own, and would prefer that it not tell me outright would I should do… because then it just seems like propaganda instead of art. However, I do not really want to fault Lurie much for this because his argument is a one that needs to be heard, respected, and put into our political system: that sexism should never, can never, and will never be tolerated in any way. It’s a great message, but I feel like it was almost shoved down my throat at the end.
Finally, the thing that I hated about this film, the thing that I noticed repeatedly and that bugged me and threw me off, the thing that took me out of the film to the point where I went to IMDb to find out who was responsible for the mess… was the editing. Good golly gracious the editing in this film was atrocious. I’m not one to get mean or mad at a film because I absolutely love movies, and I respect and envy people who get to share the experience of working on one together… but the editing in this film ruined some scenes for me. I mentioned earlier that the direction and the cinematography were harmed by an aspect, and this is that aspect. Some cuts in this film were horribly placed, and there were conversations were I wasn’t sure what was going on on-screen. I’m not sure if they broke the 180 degree rule, or what but at times I had to think about the characters, where they were, and what was going on more than what they were actually saying. Even worse, the dialogue in some moments seemed to not by synced up with the footage… I’m not even sure how that happened or if I should blame the DVD copy that I rented from the library in order to watch this film, but jeez it felt like a mess at times. To emphasize: the scene that stood out to me most while watching was the one that didn’t feature any cuts at all! I mean, how aware must I have been to notice that the shot hasn’t cut in a few seconds? In Hollywood, the editors usually want to make the cuts invisible and seamless… and these were just the opposite. Because of the editing, my favorite aspects of the film were harmed- the performances, story, directing and cinematography. Whew. I gotta calm back down now.
Overall, The Contender is a film with fantastic performances by Joan Allen, Jeff Bridges, and Gary Oldman in a great and provocative story about sexism and dishonesty in the political system. While the story was one that is persuasive and has a good call to action, the semi-predictability until the third act, as well as the preachy-ness of the ending bogged it down slightly, but the other aspects of the film such as the acting, directing and cinematography made up for it. However, the editing was such a problem with this film that I have a hard time imagining that I’ll sit through it again, and much rather would choose a different political drama that didn’t infuriate me while watching because of the cuts. I’ll give this film a decent 6/10, but a yellow recommendation. Maybe see it, but don’t rush out, but if you have a chance, then it’s a story and a film worth paying attention to for what it is! As always, I thank you for reading my review, and don’t ever let me dissuade you from seeing a movie. Everybody has different tastes, and these reviews are just a slice of mine. If you have seen it, let me know what you think! I’ll see you soon for more movie content!