Volume 94, Issue 26
Tuesday, October 17, 2000
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Allen's turn as VP Oscar-worthy
Photo by Gino Mifsud
"WE'VE CALLED THIS PRESS CONFERENCE TO ANNOUNCE THAT I JUST FARTED." Joan Allen defends hefself in a legendary performance in The Contender
Starring: Joan Allen, Gary Oldman, Jeff Bridges, Christian Slater
Directed By: Rod Lurie
By John Plantus
In recent years, the government has played a role of great magnitude in film. Hollywood presidents have taken arms against aliens, waged war against giant meteors and kicked terrorists off of a cruising jumbo jet.
Heck, if Mr. Smith went to Washington today, he'd probably bring along a team of Navy S.E.A.L commandos to infiltrate a heinous drug cartel run by South American boy scouts.
Given the barrage of frivolous images, it's no wonder Capitol Hill has become a Babylon of sex scandal and personal invasion. The private lives of politicians are now subject to the kind of scrutiny normally withheld for the examination of Elizabeth Taylor's marital status.
This crisis is the focal point of The Contender, a political drama that possesses the kind of depth and intellect audiences have not seen in a long time.
Joan Allen plays Democratic Senator Laine Hanson, the candidate chosen by President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) to assume the role of Vice President, following the recent death of his second in command. Evans, who is nearing the end of his final term as Commander-in-Chief, selects Hanson to fulfill his swan-song goal of instating a woman into high office for the first time in American history.
This idea does not sit well with the Republican opposition, namely Senator Shelly Runyan (portrayed by a barely recognizable Gary Oldman), head of the congressional investigation committee that will determine Hanson's confirmation.
Unable to attack Hanson's administrative record, Runyan uncovers evidence that points toward deviant sexual behavior, including photographs of a fraternity orgy allegedly involving the Senator. These revelations are played out in a series of McCarthy-esque hearings in an attempt to assassinate her character.
At the risk of both career and livelihood, Hanson maintains her personal life is irrelevant to the issue at hand, refusing to discuss the accusations in any public forum. As the proceedings continue, the film debates whether her strength of character can compete with the growing scandal.
The Contender relies on the strength of its writing and performances to deliver a thought-provoking message to its audience. Writer/director Rod Lurie is not afraid to take sides when it comes to the discussion of politically charged issues. He presents a highly Democratic stance towards the subjects of abortion, prayer in school and the death penalty, yet he maintains that neither of the two opposing opinions can be read as an absolute.
He also reminds us that the Republican Party, which once fought so diligently to keep government out of peoples lives, was the first to bring politics into the bedroom.
Gary Oldman masterfully captures Senator Runyan's ruthlessness. He alternates between the subtly manipulative public persona and behind-closed-doors cruelty of his character with seamless ease, creating one of the most despicable screen villains in years.
President Evans is performed with equal talent by Bridges, whose final speech is the modern-day equivalent of Jimmy Stewart's in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Most noteworthy is Joan Allen, who could not be more natural in real life, as she is playing Laine Hanson on screen. She brings both warmth and dignity to a powerfully written role and audiences should not be surprised to see a nomination, let alone a statue in her hand, come Oscar night.
The Contender brings timely issues to the forefront and examines them with a degree of rationality yet to be uncovered in any other medium.
It is truly one of this year's best films.
Copyright © The Gazette 2000