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THE CONTENDER ($27) is a potent political drama that shows partisanship at its worst by making use of the use of the voracious news media to commit character assassination. With THE CONTENDER writer/director Rod Lurie spins a tale of political intrigue that concerns the machinations deployed by both political parties, when the American Vice President unexpectedly dies and President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) is forced to name a replacement. Going against convention, the President bypasses Governor Jack Hathaway (William L. Petersen), the frontrunner and rising star in the Democratic Party, and offers the job to prominent female Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen). Evansí choice upsets Republicans and Democrats alike, but none so much as Republican Congressman Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman), who doesn't feel that the Senator Hanson doesnít embody the greatness that the job requires. To prevent the Senatorís confirmation, Runyon deploys questionable tactics; including slipping a story to the news media that involves a sexual indiscretion that occurred during Hanson's college days. Proving that she is made of sterner stuff than anyone anticipated, Hanson refuses to comment on any aspect of her personal life, including the long buried incident that Runyon has brought to light.

I found the plot of THE CONTENDER to be timely, thought provoking and entertaining, but it is the performances that make this a must see movie. Joan Allen has seldom been better and slips into the role of the proud, determined Senator Hanson with chameleon like ease. Gary Oldman is amazing and almost unrecognizable as Runyon; although the villain of the piece, Oldman gives Runyon the kind of very human complexities, which makes his viewpoint and willingness to resort to underhanded tactics almost understandable. Jeff Bridges brings a certain quirkiness to the role of President Evans, but he still delivers a very commanding and believable performance. The solid supporting cast of THE CONTENDER also features Christian Slater, Sam Elliott, Saul Rubinek, Philip Baker Hall, Mike Binder, Robin Thomas, Mariel Hemingway, Kathryn Morris and Kristen Shaw.

Dreamworks Home Entertainment has made THE CONTENDER available on DVD in a wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 monitors. Framed at 1.78:1, the image on the DVD is clean, sharp and nicely detailed. Colors are usually rendered at a very natural level of saturation, but there are some moments in the film where the hues have a somewhat subdued quality and artfully filtered. There are no signs of chromatic distortion or smearing amongst the more intense colors. Blacks are very accurately rendered and shadow detail is generally very good. Some shots don't have as much depth as others, but overall the picture has a very pleasing appearance.

Although primarily a dialogue driven film, THE CONTENDER features a very good Dolby Digital 5.1 channel mix. Sound effects are well placed, which creates a very involving sonic environment that also benefits from the use of the split surround channels. Dialogue is always fully intelligible and the actor's voices resonate with a very natural timbre. Music is nicely integrated into the mix and is reproduced with excellent fidelity. The bass channel is very solid; enhancing both the sound effects and musical passages. A DTS 5.1 channel soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD and it provides subtle improvements over the Dolby Digital track. Sound effects seem a bit more distinct in DTS, plus the bass is tighter and the music has a bit more resolution. A standard Dolby Surround soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English subtitles.

Full motion video animation and sound have been utilized to enhance the interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some supplements. Director Rod Lurie and actress Joan Allen provide a running audio commentary that is very entertaining and full of choice tidbits on the production. The Making Of A Political Thriller runs slightly more than twenty minutes and looks back on classics of the genre while promoting the release of THE CONTENDER. This featurette is better than the standard PR pieces that accompany most new films on DVD and is worth taking a look at. Also included on the DVD are ten deleted scenes that can be viewed with or without the director's comments. The scenes are fairly interesting, but were cut out of the film for obvious reasons. A theatrical trailer, production notes and cast filmographies fill out the extras.

THE CONTENDER is a very solid political drama that is worth seeing just on the merit of its first rate performances. Dreamworks delivers a high quality presentation on DVD that makes this disc worth picking up.


The Contender


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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