March 22, 2024

THE CONTENDER: The White House Has A Bowling Alley?

2000 / 125 min
Available at
Review by Mr. Bonnie😺

Allow me to recap my favorite scene from The Contender

President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) must select a new vice president because the previous one just died. He passes on the most popular choice, Jack Hathaway (William Petersen), who just made heroic headlines by attempting to rescue a woman trapped in a submerged car. He prefers Laine Billings (Joan Allen), a woman senator.

When Laine and her husband arrive in Washington for a meeting, the President happens to be rolling a few frames in the White House bowling alley. 

First of all, I didn’t know the White House even had a bowling alley. Second…is this scene intended as an homage to Bridges and his greatest role, The Dude in The Big Lebowski? Probably not, but I like to think so. It’s also kinda fun to imagine this is ultimately what became of The Dude once those pesky George H.W. Bush years were over.

The president abides.
Anyway, Bridges is the best part of the movie, which is about the opposition Laine faces from congress during the approval hearings led by conniving Republican chairman Sheldon Runyon (Gary Oldman). With help from ambitious young senator Reginald Webster (Christian Slater), Runyon digs up dirt on Laine from her wild college days and leaks it to the media during the hearings. Riding his moral high horse, which includes condemning her stance on abortion rights, Runyon’s true agenda is clearing the way for Hathaway to be selected.

Overall, The Contender tells an interesting story and features a lot of excellent performances. Both Bridges & Allen were nominated for Oscars, but Sam Elliott as Chief-of-Staff Kermit Newman is just as noteworthy. And what more can be said about Oldman? He’s deliciously hateful here as a (very) thinly veiled example of the agenda-driven Republicans we regularly see on TV, tearing apart rivals over personal indiscretions that have nothing to do with one’s actual job performance.

In fact, we’ve seen a lot of this stuff play itself out in the real world. It’s no accident this film was released amidst a similar White House scandal and the trivial hearings related to it. Not a hell of a lot has changed in Washington or the media since then. Some could argue it's even worse.  Thus, The Contender may not seem quite as provocative as it did 24 years ago, playing more like a summative analysis than cautionary commentary. Still, it’s an entertaining film with one shocking revelation: There’s a bowling alley in the White House. 



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