The hard-ball gamesmanship and casual character assassination of American politics sets the stage for this thriller from writer and director Rod Lurie. When the Vice President of the United States unexpectedly dies, all eyes in Washington D.C. are on President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) as he chooses a new VP. Sen. Jack Hathaway (William Petersen), a respected career politician enjoying a new swell of popularity after a well-publicized attempt to save a drowning woman, is expected to be Evans' choice, but instead he picks Sen. Laine Hanson (Joan Allen), a decision that raises eyebrows on both sides of the political fence. Veteran power broker Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman) is vehemently opposed to Hanson's appointment, in part because the Democratic senator was once a Republican, and vows to do everything in his power to prevent her from being confirmed. Runyon and his staff start digging for dirt on Hanson, and soon make a surprising discovery -- her personal morality is called into question when it's alleged that she took part in a group sexual liaison while she was a college student. The Contender also stars Mike Binder as one of Hanson's advisors, Mariel Hemingway as an old friend with a surprising secret, Christian Slater as an ambitious congressmen assisting Runyon, and Philip Baker Hall as Hanson's father; it was the second feature from former film critic Rod Lurie.
by Mark Deming synopsis