Movie Review: The Contender

By Erik Petersen
Movie Magazine International
My girlfriend and I were lucky enough to attend the opening of the Mill Valley Film Festival last Saturday evening. The festival kicked off with a screening of “The Contender” which was written and directed by Rod Lurie, who began his career as a film critic in Los Angeles. Not that being a critic isn’t rewarding but after this film Mr. Lurie should have his pick of projects.

“The Contender” stars Joan Allen as a Vice Presidential nominee. Before the screening a highlight reel of Ms. Allen’s career was shown and then she was interviewed live on stage. I have to admit that prior to the highlight reel I had completely forgotten that she appeared in “Peggy Sue Got Married” and one of my favorite films “Manhunter.” Speaking about her career Ms. Allen mentioned that coming from the stage she was always very conscious about not appearing too big on screen, since a stage actor is trained to project for the audience.

Well there’s no missing her this time. “The Contender” is a breakout role for Ms. Allen, who Mr. Lurie had in mind when he wrote the screenplay. Like her character in the “Ice Storm” and many of her previous characters her portrayal of Senator Laine Hanson is at once reserved but belies a simmering rage underneath. When she faces off against a vicious congressman, played by Gary Oldman with a moral self-righteousness not seen since Joe McCarthy, it amazed me. Mr. Oldman is nearly unrecognizable in his role as Congressman Shelly Runyon. He actually reminded me of the transformation that Sean Penn underwent to play a sleazy lawyer in “Carlito’s Way.” The film also features an absolutely amazing performance by Jeff Bridges, as President Jackson Evans. That’s right, President, as in of the United States.

Not since “The Fabulous Baker Boys” has Mr. Bridges had a role this meaty, and he sinks his teeth into it, literally. As the President one of his very amusing and humanizing traits is his desire to try and stump the White House kitchen with off beat meal requests. That and his penchant for bowling on the White House lanes are endearing, but the speech he makes to congress simply blew me away. It was moment that sadly occurs all too infrequently these days. The hair on the back of my neck stood at attention and a lump rose in my throat. I felt kind of pride in our government and the country’s leaders that sadly only occurs in the movies.

See “The Contender”, it’s an amazing film. It might even inspire you to cast a vote this year. I’m Erik Petersen for Movie Magazine.
More Information:
The Contender
USA - 2000