"The Contender" -- billed as a political thriller -- draws its inspiration from the did-he-or-didn't-he debate that raged around the Starr investigation of Monica-gate and the subsequent Clinton impeachment hearings.
Written and directed by self-proclaimed liberal Rod Lurie, the film comes down hard on the side of those who think a politician's moral fiber has nothing to do with his -- or in this case, her -- ability to govern.
Released in the weeks prior to the November election, "The Contender" looks suspiciously like a Clinton apologist's attempts to unravel the arguments of the president's most vocal critics.
Whether the audience agrees or disagrees may depend on what the individual viewer thinks is most disturbing: the asking or the refusal to tell all in a forthright and truthful manner.
As the movie opens, a vice president has died in office and the president (Jeff Bridges) must choose a successor.
With an eye on his legacy, the president decides to nominate a woman, Sen. Laine Hanson (Joan Allen), who has built a solid career on the issues held dear by the liberal cause: the right to an abortion, ever-expanding government and so on.
The nomination is sent to the congressional committee chaired by Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman) whose investigation uncovers photographic evidence of Hanson's (yup, you guessed it) less-than-stellar sexual past.
In keeping with the filmmaker's point of view, Runyon is portrayed as just another slimy Republican who is more interested in destroying the opposition than in advancing the cause of good government.
Hanson, driven by high ethical standards, refuses to play Runyon's game and declines to respond to the chairman's allegations, reiterating over and over again her positions on the issues of the day, in heroic Clintonesque fashion.
Distributed by DreamWorks, the themes and outcome of "The Contender" will come as no surprise, in light of the studio owners' political persuasions.
DreamWorks' Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen are highly visible Friends of Bill (and, one assumes, Friends of Gore), and have given freely to the Democratic Party over the years.
Oldman, in fact, was so disgusted with the final edit of the film -- Runyon comes across as the persona of the villainous Republican Party -- that he accused the filmmaker of issuing a "Goebbels-like piece of propaganda" to influence the outcome of the November elections.
In the latest edition of Premiere magazine, the actor accused Lurie of altering the final cut of the film "under pressure from DreamWorks to fit the political tastes of the studio's partners," according to wire service accounts.
The studio has denied the allegation, but the viewers will have an opportunity to judge for themselves, when "The Contender" opens in area theaters.
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