Copyright 1999-2003 3BlackChicks Enterprises™. All Rights Reserved.

Bams' review of
The Contender


The Contender (2000)
Rated R; running time 126 minutes
Genre:Political Drama
Official site:
IMDB site:
Written by: Rod Lurie
Directed by: Rod Lurie
Cast: Joan Allen, Gary Oldman, Jeff Bridges, Sam Elliott, Christian Slater, William L. Petersen, Saul Rubinek, Robin Thomas, Mike Binder, Philip Baker Hall, Mariel Hemingway, Kathryn Morris, Kristen Shaw

Review Copyright Rose Cooper, 2000

(click here to skip to this movie's rating)

My jaded snarkasm is, I think, my biggest movie-watching handicap. Let one teeny bit of nonsense be shown on screen - like, say, the portrayal of an Honest Politician - and WHOOSH; the air just squirts right outta my Disbelief's Suspension, sending it tumbling...

THE STORY (WARNING: **spoilers contained below**)
The Clinton era is over, yet there's another Democratic White House - with Yet Another Sex Scandal on its hands: this time, involving an ex-Republican of the female persuasion.

The Vice-President Of The United States has died, and President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) searches for a replacement amongst his Democratic party. A candidate, Governor Jack Hathaway (William L. Petersen), is proposed after he heroically tries to rescue a woman whose car crashes into the river in which he's fishing. But the shadow of Ted Kennedy is cast much too wide for Hathaway to escape, and Evans and his Chief Of Staff, Kermit Newman (Sam Elliott), reject Hathaway on the basis of possible misperception and potential innuendo.

Wanting someone who Looks Good above all, Evans - much to the dismay of Newman and fellow staffer Jerry Tolliver (Saul Rubinek) - decides on naming Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) as his new VP. Insisting that the reason for not wanting Hanson in the number two spot has nothing to do with her gender, but that she certainly wouldn't be appointed "just because" she's a woman, young Democratic Senator Reginald Webster (Christian Slater) seeks out Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman), the Republican chairman running the VP confirmation committee, asking if he could be part of Runyon's committee. Before the conformation hearings begin (using tactics that "even the FBI wouldn't touch"), Runyon and Webster discover that Hanson may have had a Sordid Past: as a college freshman, she was rumored to have been part of a fraternity/sorority gang-bang. Armed with that knowledge, Webster, and especially Runyon, set out to destroy any chance of Hanson ever seeing the White House from the Seat Of Power.

Like Nurse Betty before it, The Contender was chock full of good performances leading to a dead-end. Joan Allen, one of the best parts of the movie Pleasantville, was excellent as the downtrodden, too-good-to-be-true Senator Hanson [which reminds me: if she was already a Senator, why did the scandal not break when she was running for that office? Silly me, asking logical questions again]. Gary Oldman, as the sleazy slimy Shelly Runyon, sent chills down my spine. Once again, he submersed himself fully into a role in which he acts and looks completely different from his previous roles; why his name isn't brought up when his contemporaries like Streep and DeNiro are mentioned, is beyond me. In two strong supporting roles, Christian Slater's naive junior Senator, and especially Sam Elliott as Kermit [Kermit? WTF???] Newman, often Own the scenes they're in. And even though Jeff Bridges' food-obsessed version of the President was too comical for me to get behind, he was Clinton-esque enough to be believable throughout the first 100 or so minutes of this flick.

So why'd The Contender fail to get the 3BC equivalent of two thumbs up? This movie was like the best passage in a dancehall tune: the passage itself may be great, but in the end, the song just repeats one phrase over and over.

The "one-phrase" in Contender split itself in two: on the low octave, it's "Republicans Are Bad, Mean/And Ugly Too"; and in the high register, it's "Look At The Honest Politician Done Wrong/And Taking It Up The Wazoo". And both notes, hit repeatedly and fair loudly, were enough to deaden my eardrum. Especially with that "Honest Politician" bit. The light went out on that search a long time ago.

The Contender was a slow-starter, picked up with a twist near the three-quarters mark, and comes complete with a Big! Speech! reminiscent of Michael Douglas' turn in The American President. In this, it's very much like the political campaign of the GoreBush morph Borg: it looks like it's saying something Real, but it's really just mouthing the words without any real feeling.

THE "BLACK FACTOR"    [ObDisclaimer: We Are Not A Monolith]

Setting aside the fact that, unless I misremember, the only speaking part a Black actor got in The Contender was that of a White House waiter [and how's that for a rosy outlook of Our role in the Democratic future?], let's focus on The Female Factor and how it comes back to The Black Factor, shall we?

What piqued my curiosity most is that, in some ways, the words "Female" and "Black" could be used interchangeably in this movie; couldn't you just hear those Senators saying "I don't mind that he's Black, but I won't vote for him simply because of that!", or even better, "This is what comes of Affirmative Action!", and meaning the same thing aimed at a White woman or a Black man? And yes, I know that there are actually Black women in relatively high-ranking political positions; but get real: besides that nutcase that the equally nutcased Pat Buchanon has as a running-mate, do you really think that an American presidential candidate is anywhere near ready for a Black woman as the Vice button-pusher?

Terms being somewhat interchangeable or not, though, I doubt that a political movie that did interchange them would ever be made. Unless it was a Black movie. Make that, a Black comedy. Starring the Wayans Brothers as Stepin and Fetchit.

My lack of respect for the whole of American Politicians having informed my Suspension Of Disbelief that it was time to give up the ghost, I just couldn't take this movie at face value. The Contender was a pretender to the throne. An idealistic pretender, sure; but I defy anyone to find a Senator Laine Hanson hiding out inside any of the corrupted charlatans who are our elected representatives. grumble.



Hey, I think I'm on to something: "The Pretender" is a much better title for a portrayal of an Honest Politician, eh?

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And that's the way I see it.

Rose "Bams" Cooper
3BlackChicks Review™
Copyright Rose Cooper, 2000
EMAIL:    ICQ: 7760005

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More 3BlackChicks™ review(s) for this week:
(movies reviewed through 10/13/00):

Bams' reviews:
The Contender | Best In Show

The Diva's reviews:
The Contender | The Ladies Man | Lost Souls
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