The Contender
SHADOWS AWARD: BEST ACTRESS JOAN ALLEN
SHADOWS MUST SEE MUST-SEE
dir-scr Rod Lurie
with Joan Allen, Gary Oldman, Jeff Bridges, Sam Elliott, Christian Slater, William Petersen, Mike Binder, Saul Rubinek, Philip Baker Hall, Robin Thomas, Kathryn Morris, Mariel Hemingway
release US 13.Oct.00 UK 6.Apr.01
DreamWorks 00/US 2h05 4 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
State of the union. President Evans introduces his choice (l to r: Allen, Bridges, Elliot, Rubinek).
With razor-sharp writing and direction, Rod Lurie's The Contender is a thoroughly gripping political thriller about ethics and integrity.

When his vice president dies suddenly, President Evans (Bridges) nominates Senator Laine Hanson (Allen) to take his place, setting in motion a gruelling approval process. The battle is filthy, with mud-slinging and sleazy innuendo everywhere as the President and his candidate take on the arch-conservative (Oldman) who chairs the approval committee. While conspiracies, smear campaigns and sex scandals threaten everyone.

Lurie assembles all the elements coherently and with real dramatic power as we watch these characters struggle for power. It's full of astute little details, sudden explosions of humour and irony, and real electricity in the interaction of the characters (especially between Allen and Oldman, who are on peak form here, which is saying a lot). With insightful, fiercely intelligent direction and editing, Lurie builds on the performances to bring out the bigger truths behind the issues at hand. So it's a huge surprise that the film goes slushy and idealistic at the end (a sop to test audiences perhaps?) with aswelling musical score, rousing speeches and touching moments galore. Yet even that can't dampen the serious, edgy material at the film's core.

[15--strong themes and situations, language] 3.Nov.00

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

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