The Contender Review

The story:
American's vice-president has just died and the Democrat president (Jeff Bridges) is under tremendous pressure to find a good replacement for him. Jack Hathaway (William Peterson), the apparent heir, however has been getting bad press due to his failure to save a woman from drowning, making Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) the president's choice to replace the vice-president... Then begins the long confirmation proceedings in order to get her confirmed as acceptable for the office. Her nomination however has been seen by many as a mere PC move causing senators and congressmen from both sides of the house to show opposition to her nomination. The senator Runyon (an unrecognisable Gary Oldman), a republican and head of the confirmations committee, vows to never have her in the White House and starts to trawl through her past, digging up dirt from her past... Will Hanson be able to defend herself against such vociferous opposition or is she going to fall foul to their dirty-tricks campaign?

Although the performances by most of the actors are quite good, I find it hard to accept Bridges as the US president - Lurie (the director/writer) choosing to make him a bowling addict didn't really help matters with the Dude from The Big Lebowski being constantly conjured up in my mind. The questions that can arise from the plot could have been relatively interesting, however, it is given quite a pedestrian treatment by Lurie... His quite evident liberal bias does him some great disservice and he's constantly appealing to stereotypical portrayal of the republicans whilst idealising the democrats as the most principled people on earth... I don't have a problem with his political views as such but there's too much clear axe-grinding here - only Lurie doesn't seem to have a clue how to grind it properly!
Added to this he gives us some of the most schmaltzy moments of on-screen political drama; of course this probably goes down well with American audiences but to the non-American viewer it has the faint smell of seriously smug back slapping making you want to reach for the sick-bag more often than on a rollercoaster.
The twists in the plot were virtually given to you within the first 15 minutes of the film if you were sufficiently attentive so when they unfold you're pretty unsurprised... Besides the unimpressive script, the cinematography has it's quality moments but is nothing really that special - the best moments in it are direct rips from classic movies which Lurie does confess to in the commentary. Quite an insipid piece of work to be honest...

The DVD:

The image:It is presented in the correct aspect ratio in an anamorphic transfer... The colours seems to come out quite well, however, there are some parts especially at the beginning where there is a noticeable amount of print damage in the form of scratches and black marks- a little surprising for a film that recent. Throughout the film there are few other white specks and some grain but nothing really that distracting... There are some scenes that seem a little too blurry but that could have been intended by Lurie to give it a more realistic feel. Artificating was kept to a minimum and hardly that visible throughout. Overall a competent transfer.

The sound:We're treated to a 5.1 mix of the film which is dialogue based. Surround effects are sometimes used but one is left wondering if it was that necessary a thing to do for this type of film... A basic stereo mix may have been sufficient. No real quibbles with the soundtrack though. The voices are clear and the music is well rendered.

The menus:The menus are based upon a TV news program and are quite stylish with the program's theme tune introducing the menus. They're all animated with excerpts from the film playing in the background. Quite a nice addition.

The extras:We get a nice amount of them including one exclusive to the UK in the form of an interview with Joan Allen - talking about everything from the DVD to her view of politicians - which lasts for 12 minutes.The 10 deleted scenes mount up to just under 16 minutes and feature discarded parts of the plot and can be listened to with Lurie commenting them or not... They look a little rough but are watchable and are correctly framed although not anamorphically transferred.The commentary track features both Rod Lurie and Joan Allen in the same room and they both keep talking throughout the film. Allen tends to be bit of a yes-person throughout but has her own interesting additions to Lurie's unstoppable flow... Lurie does line up a few platitudes which he probably views as quite profound but overall it's an adequate commentary track.To finish off the extras we get the theatrical trailer and 4 TV spots for the UK release which are all in non-anamorphic widescreen.

Conclusions:Despite my severe reservations about this film, if you feel you can cope with it's patriotic tone and unrealistic view of politics, this is quite an OK release - the extras were carefully chosen and are an interesting expansion on the film itself. Although the image is not as good as it could have been, it's at least anamorphic and more than watchable.

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