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The 100




Contender, The
(2000)
Reviewed by Scott Marshall
Rating: 7 Beans

pparently director/screenwriter Rod Lurie wrote
the character of Laine Hanson specifically for
Joan Allen, who stars in this political
melodrama and is definitely the strongest asset
this movie has. It’s a shame that Lurie did not
write his film a little more sharply, because the
good performances here are wasted when the
film falls apart in the last act.

As you will know if you have seen the trailer,
Laine Hanson is a US Senator who is
nominated by the President (Jeff Bridges) to be
his Vice-President after the untimely death of the
fellow who formerly held that office. His
right-hand man, Sam Elliott, is skeptical but
determined to make sure that Hanson’s
confirmation is a swift and smooth one.
Standing in their way is Gary Oldman as a
Republican senator who seeks revenge for
losing the last Presidential race and who will
not "elect a woman just because she’s a
woman." Further complicating matters is
Christian Slater as an idealistic Democratic
senator who wants to be on the confirmation
committee and who is skeptical of Hanson.

The movie plays out with an amusing ease.
Bridges steals scenes as a President who is
gleefully in charge, bowling in the basement of
the White House and calling the chef to see if he
can order any kind of meal any time of the day.
He is a little world-weary and wants nothing
more than to have a positive legacy behind him,
part of which would be to have a woman in the
penultimate seat of government. Seems
reasonable enough.

Of course, Oldman’s opposition leads to
digging up dirt on the candidate, unearthing a
photo of her in college having sex with two men,
and testimony from those who were there,
describing her wanton ways. She "refuses to
dignify" the reports of her personal past,
determined to answer only questions about
standard partisan political issues during her
confirmation hearings. She is compared to
President Clinton at one point and gives the
opinion that as an adulterer he was "not guilty
but responsible."

All of this is supposedly in support of an
often-repeated message that such personal
questions are none of the committee’s
business- and by extension, none of the
public’s either. This is a thesis which I happen
to agree with, personally, which makes the final
act of the film that much more disappointing.

After the rough ride of the hearings, the stiff
upper lip and political machinations, there is a
scene where Hanson confides in the President
about what actually happened. This is the
scene which spoils the movie. Rather than
allow the audience to wonder if Hanson did
what she was alleged to do, and force the
audience to consider whether or not such a
person is desirable in office, we are told that (1)
she is not the person in the picture, (2) she
spent a long time in college dispelling the
rumours about her, which were apparently
well-known, and (3) she has an affadavit in her
possession from someone who will testify that
she never participated in that sexual encounter.
She has not come forward with any of this
information because… why?

Because she enjoyed public humiliation?
Because she thought the President should be
made to look like a fool? No, because "it’s just
nobody’s business" and "if I were a man, no
one would ask these questions." Those things
are true enough: but that scene is utter bollocks
and completely undermines the point the film
was trying to make.

As if that were not enough, we are given several
more cues as to what a great person Laine
Hanson is throughout the movie. She is given
information that Oldman’s own wife once had
an abortion early in his political career
(unknown to him) but does not use it against
him. She has a profound knowledge of past
presidents whereas Oldman has "no sense of
history." In the President’s "inspirational"
address to congress where he demands that
Hanson be confirmed, he actually points at
Oldman and accuses him of dirty tricks while
Oldman scampers out of the room like a
whipped pup. I was dumbfounded. A
promising movie had fallen apart before my
eyes, removing all tension and mystery and
replacing it with propaganda.

A loose definition of propaganda is that which
tells you how to think. This film has been
praised by some critics for its unabashedly
liberal viewpoint. Being a liberal myself, I
obviously have no problem with its politics; but
by removing all of the humanity and potential
topics of debate from its focal point, this film
cruelly cheats its audience. The key lesson
which remains with me is not the one of gender
equality that Lurie intended; but rather a darker
message of equality uttered by Sam Elliott: "we
are no better than them." If so, why elect
anybody?






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