The Contender (2000 film)

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The Contender
Theatrical poster
Directed by Rod Lurie
Produced by Marc Frydman
Douglas Urbanski
Willi Baer
James Spies
Written by Rod Lurie
Starring Gary Oldman
Joan Allen
Jeff Bridges
Christian Slater
Sam Elliott
William L. Petersen
Saul Rubinek
Philip Baker Hall
Mike Binder
Robin Thomas
Mariel Hemingway
Kathryn Morris
Music by Larry Groupé
Cinematography Denis Maloney
Edited by Michael Jablow
Cinerenta Medienbeteiligungs KG
Battleground Productions
SE8 Group
Distributed by DreamWorks Pictures
Release dates
  • October 13, 2000 (2000-10-13)
Running time
126 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20 million
Box office $22,361,811

The Contender is a 2000 political drama film written and directed by Rod Lurie. It stars Gary Oldman, Joan Allen, Jeff Bridges and Christian Slater. The film focuses on a fictional United States President (played by Bridges) and the events surrounding his appointment of a new Vice President (Allen).

Joan Allen was nominated for the Best Actress Award and Jeff Bridges for the Best Supporting Actor Award at the Academy Awards.


Second-term Democratic U.S. President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) must select a new vice president following the sudden death of the current VP. The obvious choice seems to be Virginia Governor Jack Hathaway (William Petersen), who is hailed as a hero after he recently dove into a lake in a failed attempt to save a drowning girl. The president opts not to choose Hathaway, claiming that the administration cannot afford another Chappaquiddick.

The President instead decides that his "swan song" will be helping to break the glass ceiling. He nominates Laine Hanson (Joan Allen), a talented Democratic senator from Ohio. Standing in her way is Republican Congressman Shelley Runyon (Gary Oldman) of Illinois, who believes she is unqualified for the position, and backs Hathaway for the nod. His investigation into her background turns up an incident where she was apparently photographed participating in a drunken orgy as part of a sorority initiation.

The confirmation hearings begin in Washington, D.C., and Runyon, who chairs the committee, quickly addresses Hanson's alleged sexual imbroglio. Hanson refuses to address the incident, neither confirming nor denying anything, and tries to turn the discussion towards political issues. Anticipating that Hanson would deem her personal past "none of anyone's business," Runyon starts rumors in the media saying that the sexual escapade in college was done in exchange for money and favors, making it prostitution. Meanwhile, a woman testifies in front of the committee saying that Hanson engaged in a relationship with her then-husband prior to their divorce. Though she is said to be not guilty of adultery, her reputation is further tarnished.

Hanson meets with Evans and offers to withdraw her name, to save his administration more embarrassment. Despite the wishes of the administration, she refuses to fight back or even address Runyon's charges, arguing that to answer the questions dignifies them being asked in the first place—something she does not believe. Evans meets with Runyon, informing him he will not choose Hanson as Vice President. Runyon casually brings forward Hathaway as a replacement. They make an agreement that Runyon will back down on his attacks if Evans chooses Hathaway as Vice President. However, Evans requests Runyon to make a public statement defending Hathaway.

Hanson, Hathaway and Runyon are all invited to the White House. Evans then shocks them by showing a FBI report that proves Hathaway paid the woman to drive off the bridge into the lake, part of a plan to increase his approval ratings and become the obvious choice for VP. Hathaway is arrested and Runyon is disgraced because he vouched for Hathaway's integrity just hours earlier. Evans meets with Hanson, and she finally tells what actually happened that night in college: She said that she did indeed arrive at a fraternity house to have sex with two men as part of an initiation, but changed her mind before any sex occurred. She also said that she was not the girl in the photo. Though they have the evidence to vindicate Hanson (because the woman participating in the orgy was missing a large birthmark on her thigh which Hanson possessed), she explicitly expresses that a statement not be made, even if it will clear her, citing that by doing so will further the idea that it was acceptable to ask the questions in the first place.

The film ends with Evans addressing all of Congress, where he chastises Republicans for blocking Hanson's confirmation. He explicitly calls out Runyon, who leaves in humiliation and disgust. Although he declares that Hanson had asked for her nomination to be withdrawn so he could finish his presidency with triumph over controversy, he remains adamant and calls for an immediate confirmation vote. The applause from everyone inside the Congress indicates she will be confirmed as VP.


  • Gary Oldman as Rep. Sheldon Runyon (R-IL). Runyon is a conservative Republican who leads the attack on the nominee, namely by leaking rumors on the Internet, overseeing accusations of prostitution, and challenging the nominee's liberal position on abortion. He is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that oversees Sen. Hanson's confirmation.
  • Joan Allen as Sen. Laine Billings Hanson (D-OH). The nominee for Vice President. She is a Republican-turned-Democrat who fiercely guards her privacy. Coincidentally, Joan Allen had one of her very first jobs ever as an actress working for producer Douglas Urbanski in Chicago in the late 1970s.
  • Jeff Bridges as President Jackson Evans. In the DVD commentary, Lurie explained the President does not have a confrontational personality, but relies on his charm to achieve his aims. Lurie's first choice was Paul Newman. Urbanski objected to that idea and suggested Bridges instead.
  • Christian Slater as Rep. Reginald Webster (D-DE). A young Democrat who allies with Runyon to defeat the nominee, putting him in conflict with Evans.
  • Sam Elliott as Chief of Staff Kermit Newman. Democratic watchdog and Evans' most trusted aide. Oversees Senator Hanson's confirmation for the Vice Presidency.
  • William Petersen as Governor Jack Hathaway (D-VA). A popular Democrat and Evans' heir-apparent. He has good relations with Runyon and is Runyon's preference for the Vice Presidency. Hathaway is also motivated by his ambitious wife.
  • Saul Rubinek as Jerry Toliver. Evans' press secretary.
  • Philip Baker Hall as Oscar Billings. Laine Hanson's father and former Republican Governor of Ohio.
  • Mike Binder as Lewis Hollis. Laine Hanson's legal counsel.
  • Robin Thomas as William Hanson. Laine Hanson's husband and campaign manager. He was previously married and had an affair with Laine while campaigning for Senator.
  • Kathryn Morris as Special Agent Paige Willomina. A clever FBI agent who collects information leading to the revelation of Hathaway's liability in the car accident victim's death.
  • Douglas Urbanski


The Contender received generally positive reviews: from 127 reviews collected from notable publications by popular review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an overall approval rating of 76%.[1] Roger Ebert gave the film four stars out of four, calling it "one of those rare movies where you leave the theater having been surprised and entertained, and then start arguing." Despite the film's R rating and limited appeal of its subject, it was a modest box office success, generating over $5 million during its opening weekend[2] on its way to a total domestic gross of $17,872,723.[3] It earned $22,361,811 worldwide.[3]

The Contender was nominated for two Academy Awards: Joan Allen for Best Actress and Jeff Bridges for Best Supporting Actor.

In 2008, President Barack Obama, then running for President, named Jackson Evans as his favorite fictional president in an article in Entertainment Weekly.[4]


The film has also been the subject of controversy, which revolves around the fact that the President and Senator Hanson, the primary protagonists, are both Democrats, and the primary antagonist is the Republican Runyon. In an October 2000 issue of Premiere magazine, Oldman supposedly alleged that editing cuts were made due to the studio's Democratic leanings. Oldman and the film's producer, Urbanski, reportedly accused the DreamWorks studio and director Rod Lurie of editing the original film to make it more Democrat-biased, mainly by making the Runyon character less sympathetic than was originally intended.[5] However, Oldman has stated in other interviews that his criticisms were only directed at Lurie and that the quote was "bastardized, kinda" when reprinted on Internet sources. He went on to complain that his issue with the film was how it became progressively less "ambiguous" as the editing went on, specifically citing the music as a problem in turning it into a film about "good guys and bad guys."[6] Roger Ebert stated that Oldman's denunciation of the film never happened, and quoted Urbanski as saying Oldman is "the least political person I know" (against outlets calling him a "conservative" for his comments) and taking credit for producing the film independently from DreamWorks, which eventually adopted it.[7][8]


  1. ^ The Contender Movie Reviews, Pictures—Rotten Tomatoes
  2. ^ The Contender (2000)—Weekend Box Office Results
  3. ^ a b The Contender (2000)
  4. ^ Obama vs. McCain: The Great Presidential Pop-Culture Debate
  5. ^ "The Contender Film Made Pro-Gore?". Media Research Center. 13 October 2000. Retrieved 30 September 2008. 
  6. ^ "Interview with Gary Oldman". IGN. 26 February 2001. Retrieved 31 December 2011. 
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (2 November 2000). "Making of a myth". Retrieved 30 September 2008. 
  8. ^ "Contender Controversy Continues". ABC News. 17 October 2000. Retrieved 31 December 2011. 

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