In THE CONTENDER, the sudden death of the vice president of the United States forces U.S. president Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) to pick a replacement. He decides against picking the popular governor of Virginia, Jack Hathaway (William Petersen), and instead makes the radical choice of Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) to become the nation's first female veep. Governor Hathaway's political friends include Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman), a powerful congressman who will oversee Hanson's confirmation. Runyon digs into Hanson's personal life and finds evidence that in college, Hanson participated in an alcohol-fueled orgy as part of a sorority initiation. When faced with this scandal, Hanson refuses to respond to the attacks, causing a political crisis leading to further shocking revelations.
Former film critic Rod Lurie's second film (after the thriller DETERRENCE) is a tense potboiler with issues ripped from modern headlines, including the nature of political ideals and the national curiosity with leaders' sex lives. Joan Allen gives another in a long line of stunning performances as the tough, idealistic Laine Hanson, who stands up for what she believes in no matter what the cost. THE CONTENDER also features strong supporting performances from Bridges and Oldman, as well as a realistic look at the high-pressure game of insider politics.
William L. Petersen
Philip Baker Hall