The Contender

In his second feature, which like the first deals with presidential politics, writer-director Rod Lurie, a former film reviewer, doesn’t ask us to take seriously the idea of nuking Baghdad. He made that mistake the first time, in a thriller laughably entitled Deterrence. Here he wisely keeps to domestic matters, specifically to the question of whether a senator (Joan Allen), selected by the president (Jeff Bridges) to replace a deceased vice president, will be able to take office despite allegations of a sexual scandal during her college days. The movie takes a convincing stand about this matter, arguing that the truth is nobody’s business but the senator’s. Gary Oldman plays the villain, a McCarthyite senator and all-around meanie who thinks otherwise and mounts a Starr-like investigation. Bridges and Allen are so bracingly good (especially the former) that you’re encouraged to overlook how manipulative the proceedings are. Deterrence was no less ruthlessly mechanical and effective in its operations, but this time what’s being marketed isn’t the mass slaughter of innocents but some version of feminism, and as a consequence I enjoyed having my pockets picked a lot more. Nevertheless, the overall process remains theft. And not only are our reflexes exploited but also other movies, starting with Advise and Consent. With Christian Slater, Sam Elliott, William Petersen, Saul Rubinek, Philip Baker Hall, and Mariel Hemingway. The running time is 132 minutes, which is much longer than it needs to be. (JR)

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