There are so many elements that could have made this a complete disaster, such as the hilariously bad ending, the movie's inability to hold its position on female sexuality, Christian Slater's lousy performance, and the need to put Gary Oldman in a shitty half-bald wig to emphasize that he's an evil slimeball, but Joan Allen's noble performance spares the affair. I believe that The Contender has good intentions, but like many other films of its kind, it does not trust the minority character it has empowered in the end. After the cards have fallen, Jeff Bridges gets the final word in the whole affair, which is really a shame since the movie is certainly not about him. It is reminiscent of Spencer Tracy's excruciating final monologue in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. It's a shame that the film passes him its final contention, because the rest of his performance is acerbic and thoughtful as one might come to expect from Bridges. Allen of course makes the film, playing a strikingly believable politician; mature, assertive without aggression, not flighty but not totally humorless. She takes the part and plays it with a total lack of histrionics, which creates an elegant contrast to the rabid media frenzy her past may have left in its wake. Unless you ain't down with the gangbangs, you leave the movie feeling like Allen is someone you'd really want as a politician, someone with her eye on what is really important. The problem lies primarily in the ending's treatment of her, but obviously I cannot discuss this without spoiling it. Simply, beatifying a character isn't necessarily the best way to exonerate them. I can't help but wonder if this was a studio concession, or a way to gloss over the audience's own squeamishness with Mrs. Hanson's dubious acts, but I do know that it feels cheap.
Anyway, good concept, and nice attempt at an important gender parity story. It really does a lot to illuminate how venomous politics can be. It doesn't succeed in its primary goal, though it is a relatively entertaining political yarn with fine work from a majority of the cast. I don't really know if Rod Lurie got beneath the surface of the message he was sending, though. The movie retains exemplary control in every aspect but its ideology.