Contender" on DVD
DreamWorks' "The Contender" is a political thriller in the grand tradition,
updated to reflect Hollywood's current liberal mindset. It makes some
excellent points, but the only problem with them is that they're 180 degrees
removed from reality.
Joan Allen is terrific as Senator Laine Hanson, a former Republican who
saw the light and switched over to the principled Democratic party. From
her speech before the confirmation hearing, however, one wonders why she
would have ever been a Republican in the first place (other than her family
pedigree - her father was a Republican Governor); she recites a litany
of her beliefs, and they could pretty well have been taken from a combined
platform book of the Democrat, Socialist, and Green parties.
Anyway, Laine is a woman of principle and her nomination to the post
of Veep would make her the first woman to hold that post.
Her nemesis in the film is Congressman Sheldon Runyan (perfectly played
by Gary Oldman), a principled Republican who opposes her appointment because
of her liberal bent. Much is made of the assumption that he's against
her because she's a woman, but there's no evidence of this in the actual
film, so one should give him the benefit of the doubt. The conservative
Runyan is of the opinion that her liberalism is a cancer on American society
and he figures the last thing the country needs is more of that mindset
in high office. Determined to see her nomination fail, and in his position
as chairman of the committee overseeing the confirmation hearings, he
starts digging for dirt.
He finds it in a report that, when she was a teenaged college freshman,
she was involved in a Sorority initiation orgy in which, drunk, she put
on quite the spectcular sex show. The allegations are leaked to the media
and when confronted with them, Senator Hanson refuses to be drawn into
confirming or denying. Her position is that whatever may have happened,
it was a personal matter and therefore no one else's business.
The parallels to the Clinton/Lewinski affair (pun intended) are obvious,
but wrong. Where the Clinton affair was about perjury, abuse of power,
and obstruction of justice (set against a background of sexual indiscretion),
the Laine affair was purely personal, happened long before she was in
public life, and was totally irrelevant to her current life.
The real parallel here, which clearly illustrates the 180 degree spin
writer/director Rod Lurie puts on US political life, is with then-presidential
candidate George W. Bush who, when faced with unfounded allegations of
past cocaine use and a partying lifestyle when he was in college, refused
to be drawn into it. His reaction was identical to Senator Hanson's: it's
Hanson's confirmation hearings turn into a circus as representatives
from both parties (the only fans she seems to have are the liberal president
- well-played by Jeff Bridges - and her own family) gang up on Hanson
as hearsay and trumped up evidence is brought forward in an attempt to
smear her and end her career as vice president even before it begins.
The parallel we're supposed to draw here is from Joe McCarthy and his
communist witch hunt, but there's a better and more recent parallel that's
almost exactly the same as the confirmation hearings in "The Contender"
- and which once again illustrate the sharp turn from reality of the movie's
portrayal of Democrats as being principled and Republicans as being the
evil force that'll stop at nothing.
Remember John Ashcroft? The hearings to confirm him as president George
W. Bush's Attorney General were far worse than anything that happens in
this movie. Whereas in the Contender, Congressman Runyan has a steel fist
behind the velvet glove he brings to the hearings, the real Senate democrats
attacked Ashcroft viciously, mean-spiritedly, unmercifully, and unfairly
- for the same apparent reasons Runyan opposed Hanson: differences in
Anyway, if you remember to switch the party labels around to make them
reflect reality better, "The Contender" is a good movie with a lot of
good points to make. Of course, you can't expect Hollywood, and DreamWorks
in particular, to be honest when their whole raison d'etre appears to
be to fight everything conservative and/or Republican.
The performances are excellent and, to be fair, the movie clearly shows
that there's plenty of dirt and underhanded tactics to go around on both
sides. There are no good guys in this movie, with the possible exception
of Senator Hanson, who has the courage of her convictions.
Where Runyan is at least up front about his opposition to Hanson and
his intent to see her torpedoed, however, the president uses similar tactics
to get his way, but from behind the safety of closed doors.
And one of his victims, who he uses to get Runyan out of his way as well,
is a highly placed and well-respected Democratic mover and shaker who
was also in line to be vice president. So, while Runyan tries to torpedo
an ideological opponent, the president deliberately torpedoes one of his
A couple of major speeches, one by Hanson and one by the president, further
cement the movie's liberal mindset; fortunately they're both in character
- though much of the president's speech, in which he also throws down
the gauntlet to Congress to do the right thing, could just as easily have
come from a Republican.
Still, it's a good movie full of interesting characters and excellent
performances. Sam Elliott, for example, is outstanding as the president's
right hand man, and Christian Slater turns in a good performance as an
idealistic (but, unfortunately for the movie, conservative) Democrat who
also opposes Hanson and works willingly with Runyan to bring her down.
The DVD is presented in widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the soundtrack
is in Dolby Digital and DTS surround. Picture and sound are first rate.
Extras include an in-depth commentary by writer/director Lurie and star
Joan Allen., deleted scenes, a very good "behind the scenes" feature,
as well as cast/crew bios, a pretty good liner blurb, and the trailer.
The Contender, from DreamWorks Home Video
127 min. Widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital and DTS
Starring Joan Allen, Gary Oldman, Jeff Bridges, Christian Slater, Sam
Elliott, Saul Rubinek, Philip Baker Hall, William Petersen
Produced by Marc Frydman, Douglas Urbanski, Willi Baer, James Spies
Written and directed by Rod Lurie.
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