Published Sep 01, 2000With a discerning eye and smart dialogue, The Contender wades deep in the down-and-dirty world of politics. When the American Vice President dies, the President (Jeff Bridges) decides to nominate Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) for the role. But she's not everyone's first choice, and Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman) is determined to do whatever it takes to ensure that she doesn't take the office. He covertly starts a slender campaign. "Let's gut the bitch," says one of the henchmen he gets to dig up dirt. This is a movie that doesn't mince any words. Nothing here is what it first appears to be including the movie. Everyone wears a mask or has one forced on them. Hanson, the Republican-turned-Democrat is not the sexually promiscuous turncoat without any moral convictions she is made out to be by Runyon. And Runyon, who projects himself to the media as a liberal-minded virtuous politician unwilling to play hard is really one of the dirtiest, slimiest, most repulsive villains that ever walked onto the silver screen. Oldman oozes slime out of his very pores as he double talks and does whatever it takes to achieve his goal. But because he's willing to dig up and use Allen's past indiscretions, and because Allen has an innate sense of fair play, and thinks that politics should be about issues rather than personal virtues and vices, she doesn't fight back. But unfortunately, the movie itself is also masquerading as a realistic and unflinching look at American politics. It drops its mask in the last five minutes when it pulls off a pat happy ending, and the audience feels like it has been had.