'The Contender'

By Steve Wulf
Updated February 23, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
  • Movie

He’s been an alien, a bowler, a boxer, a driver, a killer, a cop, a cowboy, a tycoon, a pianist, and a couple of professors. But President of the United States? Of all the Hollywood actors to play the Commander-in-Chief, he seems the least likely. But after watching his turn as President Jackson Evans in The Contender, all hail to Jeff Bridges.

To play the seemingly simple but brilliantly manipulative President, Bridges, 51, summoned up JFK, Bill Clinton, his late father, Lloyd Bridges, and a bit of the Dude from The Big Lebowski (1998). In one scene, he’s folksily greeting Sen. Laine Hanson in the White House bowling alley while ordering coq au vin just to punctuate the power of the office, and in another, he’s pulling the wings off his archenemy, Rep. Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman), without the congressman knowing it. In his climactic speech before Congress, Bridges makes Bill Clinton look like, well, pick your oratorically challenged President. ”I think he’s a good leader,” Bridges said of his character. ”I think I’d vote for him.” That endorsement means something. Not only is Bridges politically involved as the force behind the End Hunger Network, but he is also famous among other actors and directors for his generosity and sincerity. A critic once wrote, ”He may be the most natural and least self-conscious screen actor who ever lived; physically, it’s as if he had spent his life in the occupation of each character.” Actually, the critic was Pauline Kael, and she wrote that 27 years ago about his performance in the stock car movie The Last American Hero.

Despite appearing in more than 50 films, Bridges has never won an Oscar, although he has received supporting-actor nods for The Last Picture Show (1971) and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) and a Best Actor nomination for Starman (1984). Maybe this time he’ll get the votes to win.

The Contender

  • Movie
  • R
  • 126 minutes
  • Rod Lurie