The ContenderStars: * * * *Year of Release: 2000
With the Democratic national convention coming to a close, it seemed appropriate to honor one of the best and most riveting political films of the last decade, The Contender.
It was a superlative choice because of the way Hillary Clinton, who spoke on Tuesday night, was treated by some as she was running for president. She did have 18 million supporters but there were offensive and sexist comments made by people throughout her presidential run. In a way, The Contender predicted the uproar that would take place if a woman were to even attempt joining the highest rank of the Executive Branch.
Joan Allen was nominated for Best Actress as Laine Hanson, the first woman to be nominated for vice-president after her predecessor’s death. Democratic President Jackson Evans, played with subtle realism by the great Jeff Bridges, now must send her through a Senate confirmation committee that may dramatically affect his legacy. Bridges delivers an impassioned speech toward the film’s conclusion that is tremendously inspiring because of the relative calmness he displays throughout. Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman), the Republican chairman, believes the president should have chosen the perceived frontrunner, Governor Jack Hathaway (William Peterson), as his nominee.
Runyon has no reasonable explanation for his resistance to Hanson’s nomination other than that she is a woman. Throughout the hearing, Runyon uses her stances on various political issues and the possibility that her sexual history may be clouded with unfortunate decisions for his hesitancy to confirm her. It seems clear to everyone, including his wife, that his real objection lies with her gender.
Runyon’s sexism, like that of others in the country, seems to embody arrogance more than ignorance within its grasp. It is not that he cannot see a woman as vice-president. It is just that he cannot see her doing it better than a man.
As accusations about Hanson’s past sexual encounters pile up, her refusal to answer any of these questions puzzles Reginald Webster (Christian Slater), a Democrat on the committee who has sincere doubts in her abilities, and the president’s staff, including Kermit Newman (Sam Elliot). Hanson firmly believes the sexual past of a person should not determine whether they should be vice-president, while implying on many occasions that a man would not have to deal with this unimportant issue.
The film, written and directed by Rod Lurie, deals with the story in a suspenseful and fascinating manner, with twists along the way. It was meant as an expression of protest over the ridiculousness of the Clinton impeachment trials, but it also made other valuable points that are relevant to a country continuously resistant to change. Although many viewed The Contender as partisan when it was released, with liberals as heroes and conservatives as villains, the movie disdains most of all the hypocrisy derived from those who block progress.
There were many comments made about Hillary Clinton by some who claimed a woman would let her emotions lead the country into chaos. Others have the belief that women cannot lead the country because they lack the skills to deal with its troubles.
The Contender is a great film, a hymn to American women who believe they can crash through the boundaries erected against them.