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The Contender

review by Zach B.

Rated R

Studio: Dreamworks

Running Time: 127 minutes

Starring Joan Allen, Jeff Bridges, Gary Oldman, Christian Slater, William Petersen, Philip Baker Hall, Saul Rubinek and Sam Elliott

Written and Directed by Rod Lurie

Retail Price: $26.99

Features: Commentary with Writer/Director Rod Lurie and Joan Allen, Deleted Scenes, "The Making Of A Political Thriller" Featurette, Production Notes, Cast and Crew Bios, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 5.1, English Dolby 2.0 Surround, English Subtitles, Chapter Search (20 Chapters)

It seems like ages ago when I lived in Los Angeles, but it's pretty amazing what's happened to Rod Lurie over the past six years. When I lived in Los Angeles I used to listen to his KABC movie radio show all the time. Which is why I was so surprised many months ago to see his name as writier and director on the small Paramount movie "Deterrence". While the movie had a limited release, it did score pretty well with critics. It seemed my favorite radio critic came a long way, and I was actually pretty excited to see where he'd go from there. I was happy for him because I did recognize him and what not. In the Fall of 2000, Dreamworks released "The Contender". While I did miss it in theaters, I was really anticipating the video release.

It's been three weeks since the Vice President died, and President Jackson Evans (a brilliant Jeff Bridges) is out to replace him. To the shock and disappointment of some, Evans chooses Laine Hanson (a powerful Joan Allen) as a candidate, overpassing Jack Hathaway (William Peterson). Many connections to Hathaway are not happy about Hanson's nomination, so they attempt to dig up the worst things about her and give her hell during her confirmation hearing.

What really impressed me about "The Contender" is just how good the acting, writing and directing is. It really, really all comes together. This movie is a perfect example of how great a movie can be if you do so much right. Sure, some movies have good directing and acting that make up for a semi-decent script, and you can switch the three around as you please, but as you know when they all are great, you just know it is and it's a real pleasure to watch. Compared to how many crappy movies come in and out of theaters, it's just really nice to see a real, quality movie that is really well rounded, really well paced and really well acted. I'm sure a lot of you can agree with me on this.

Lurie, a former movie critic as I mentioned, really knows his stuff when it comes to politics. The production notes go into how much he's really into it, and his writing and directing skills in this movie are really strong. Lurie creates a wide array of characters that are all over the place. From honest to downright sneaky, the characters have a sense of charm to them and you can really believe that these people exist, in fact, it's pretty likely we have people in office that Lurie portrays in the film. Lurie also gives them some sense of mystery, as we think we know someone, it turns out we really don't. He keeps us guessing to the very end. The characters have a lot of depth and are three dimensional, and with the directing, Lurie creates an atmosphere that really sucks and draws you in from start to finish. You feel like you're there watching it all unfold before your eyes.

The acting is phenomenal. Joan Allen and Jeff Bridges have already been rewarded with awards and nominations (including Oscar® nods for each), but I felt Gary Oldman stole the show as Shelly Runyon. It's really hard to believe that's Gary Oldman, but it is. He has such incredible and wonderful range as an actor, he's like a chameleon. He can fit himself into any role he chooses to play. I felt Oldman had more of a crucical part in "The Contender" than Bridges. While Bridges is charismatic, Oldman's role is a lot bigger and stronger, and I feel out of the two, he deserved the nod. All of the actors have great chemistry and play really well off one another. Also, I heard there was some tension between Oldman and Lurie. Oldman is credited as an executive producer, but I read somewhere that he felt "betrayed" by Lurie with some of the film's editing and how some of the content was portrayed (Some of this is discussed toward the end of the commentary, actually. Oldman also gets top billing, but some of you can recall that he was rather peeved by not getting a top billing on "Hannibal"). Oh well. The supporting cast is also excellent (Why this movie wasn't nominated for Best Ensemble Cast at the SAG Awards is beyond me).

"The Contender" really gripped from the start to finish. I just got more and more into it as it went along. Still, the movie also makes some excellent points today about America, the government, privacy, society and people in general. What is the public's business? Why do people stop at nothing to ruin others? Why are we so intrigued to hear about people's pasts, especially those who are filled with scandal? I personally believe everyone has the right to his or her privacy, and some matters should be kept strictly to themselves. Lurie really hits the mark with all these themes and points, and they are well discussed and shown thrroughout the film.

"The Contender" is one of the best movies I've seen in a very long time, and Dreamworks has created an outstanding DVD release for an outstanding film that I think everyone should see. Simply put, "The Contender" is a modern day political masterpiece.

Dreamworks delivers another fantastic transfer, definently one of their best. "The Contender" looks excellent in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with really, really bold colors that are also well saturated. Black level and detail in general is excellent, but now and then there is some debris or grain. Some very, very slight shimmer is noticeable in some areas. Still, this is a fantastic transfer.

"The Contender" features Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 mixes, like many Dreamworks releases these days. For a film that is dialogue heavy, it's surprisingly how good they actually are. You feel the tension building around you, slowly and carefully. Believe it or not, this is the first disc in a while where I actually prefered the Dolby Digital over the DTS. While DTS seems to be a bit more contained and features more enclosed surrounds, the Dolby Digital is a bit louder and at times, a little more active. Still, each mix is really close and really great. Dialogue is clear and easy to hear, and the beautiful score from Larry Groupé sounds fantastic. A Dolby Surround mix in English is also included, as well as English subtitles.

Dreamworks has provided a very nice package for "The Contender". While it's not filled to the brim with extras, it has a very good amount and very good ones in fact, showing that you don't need tons and tons of supplements to make an excellent and worthwhile package.

First off is a Commentary With Rod Lurie and Joan Allen. Simply put, this is one of the best commentaries I've listened to. It's really everything a commentary should be. It's not boring, it's not dull and it really gets to the point. Lurie and Allen are very enthusiastic about the film telling some interesting behind the scenes stories. There's no pauses or long breaks, this is a very good commentary. It even has some fun moments, like a small discussion on "Scooby Doo". I was very interested in what Allen had to say about the movie and her character, but I was really excited to here Lurie, because I wanted to know about his interests, his ideas, his thoughts on the movie, his inspirations and feelings on many political manners and the American government too. I can't stop raving about this track, it's a required listen.

On The Cutting Room Floor presents ten scenes that were cut from the movie, with optional commentary from Lurie. Lurie gives his reasons and thoughts on the scenes. Some were short and pointless, but others could have fit rather nicely into the film. It's a shame though that they are only in 2.0 sound and non-anamorphic. If Dreamworks presents their trailers with anamorphic enhancment and 5.1 sound, why can't they do the same with cut scenes? Be sure to give these a watch.

The Making Of A Political Thriller runs twenty-two minutes and is a very nice featurette. Interviews with Lurie, most of the cast and clips are shown, but there's also some things on old political movies. This was a very nice watch that's a nice supplement to the film.

Rounding off the disc are some Production Notes (which are also in the keep case insert), nicely written and detailed Cast and Crew Bios, and the Theatrical Trailer in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital.

A really gripping and well developed political thriller, I'm surprised Rod Lurie became a filmmaker instead of a politician (but there's no denying his love for the cinema). Dreamworks has created a terrific DVD for "The Contender". Fantastic video, audio and features, this is one disc that's highly worth every cent, and it's a great movie about people's motivations and principles too. I'm looking foward to Lurie's next films... "The Contender" is a movie that should be in your collection whether you like political dramas or not, for what it conveys is very important.

(4.5/5 - NOT included in final score)




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