Critics are more divided over the political drama The Contender than most people are over the real-life contenders in the current presidential race. (Indeed, Steven Rea of the Philadelphia Inquirer, in his (favorable) review of the movie, notes: "Hollywood's idea of the presidency is a whole lot more interesting than the ones the GOP and the Democrats are offering up.")
Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times observes: "This is one of those rare movies where you leave the theater having been surprised and entertained, and then start arguing."
The critics who fault the movie, generally lay into the script, even while praising the performances, particularly that of veteran actress Joan Allen in her first starring role. That is particularly surprising since the script is written (and directed) by a colleague, Rod Lurie, a former movie critic on a Los Angeles radio station.
Jay Carr in the Boston Globe says the film is "so crudely written as to make its espousing of progressive principles seem crassly exploitative to the point of self-parody."
And Mike Clark in USA Today comments that "Lurie's script goes as preachy in its finale as any so-called 'message picture' of the '50s and early '60s."
But Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution gives the film her vote. "It's a vivid, juicy, thoroughly entertaining movie -- one of those pictures in which winning or losing takes a back seat to playing the game," she writes.