Archive for the ‘Contender’ Category

65 – The Contender

March 8, 2001

The vice-president of the United States has passed away, and it’s up to President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges, nominated for an Oscar here) to choose his successor. When the vice-president dies or is otherwise unable to serve his office, the president picks someone to replace him, and that person is then confirmed by a Congressional committee. Kind of like the confirmation hearings for secretary of state, secretary of agriculture, secretary of commerce, and so on.

The frontrunner for the position here is Governor Jack Hathaway (William L. Petersen), a nice guy/career politico who is viewed as a hero by many when he dives into a lake in an attempt to save a young girl from drowning when her car goes over a bridge. The girl dies, but Hathaway’s popularity increases due to the “hero” factor. However, President Evans and Kermit Newman (Sam Elliott), his counsel, don’t want “another Chappaquiddick,” so they take the governor off the list.

They instead turn to Laine Hanson (Joan Allen, nominated for Best Actress), but when they announce Laine as the president’s choice, a secret from her past comes to the surface. It’s widely reported on the Internet that Laine engaged in sexual misconduct during her early years at Harvard University. Laine does not confirm or deny the charges; she steadfastly refuses to comment on them.

The thing about politicians and their images is that we Americans care less about such scandals as stocks, money laundering, and mild bribery than we do about sex scandals. Nothing kills a campaign or hopes of a career in Washington faster than a sex scandal, and it’s even worse when the politician is female.

Laine consistently refuses to discuss the charges, either with the president, his counsel, the press, or, most importantly, the committee running the confirmation hearings. These hearings are chaired by Shelley Runyon (Gary Oldman, almost unrecognizable but brilliant), who wants to make the president’s term end on a bad note, to make sure his place in history isn’t a noble one. Runyon runs the hearings like, as his wife puts it, sort of a low-rent Joe McCarthy. Of course, during these kinds of hearings, anything goes – most of all, private lives.

Hanson sticks to her story. I won’t give anything else away here, but I will tell you that this is a story or principles and dignity. It is a tale of honor among thieves, to be precise; for who among us feels that there is an overwhelming amount of honor among politicians? Hanson’s mantra throughout the proceedings is “It is beneath my dignity to answer those charges.” This is unheard of in real life. In real life, we’d want her to answer for herself. Well, Laine doesn’t want to answer for herself. So it’s a stalemate. Everyone wants to know if the charges are true for two reasons: for the purpose of knowing whether the good Senator Hanson is worthy of the office of the vice-president and for their own sexual curiosity. Could she have done those things?

Praise should be heaped on the participants in this treat. What a cast! Bridges is tough and feisty as the president, and Allen is simply amazing as Hanson. Christian Slater has a telling role as a junior senator on the confirmation committee, but he’s not terribly good. But Elliot’s wonderful, as is Petersen.

I would not be surprised if Joan Allen were to win the Best Actress Oscar this year. This is her third nomination, following Nixon (1995) and The Crucible (1996). Bridges has a good chance, too; this is his fourth nomination, following Starman (1984), Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), and The Last Picture Show (1971).

The Contender: 8