Gary Oldman in The Contender (2000)

Gary Oldman has been an acting chameleon throughout his entire career. Among his roles, he has starred as a crazed drug dealer (True Romance), a corrupt DEA agent (Leon: The Professional), a Russian terrorist (Air Force One), JFK’s murderer, Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK, Harry Potter’s Uncle, Sirius Black, Batman’s ally, Commissioner Gordon, and even provided a stunning portrayal as Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. As emphasized before, Gary Oldman is an acting chameleon who completely transforms himself with every role he has ever taken on. If anyone has deserved an Oscar for their body of work, it is Gary Oldman.

In 2000, he took critics and audiences by surprise when he took on the role of Shelly Runyon in The Contender. Not only was his acting spot on, but yet again, Gary Oldman completely altered his appearance to truly become the character. In fact, many critics had no idea they were even watching Gary Oldman until the film’s ending credits began to roll. The Contender focuses on the premise of nominating the first female Vice-President. President Jackson Evan’s (Jeff Bridges) Vice-President has passed away and he wants to nominate a female Vice-President as a part of his legacy. All sights are immediately focused upon Laine Hanson (Joan Allen), who is the seemingly perfect candidate, and she is. Laine Hanson is the very image of class, professionalism, and honor. Her only obstacle for becoming the next Vice-President is to be confirmed by the Senate, which is led by Shelly Runyon. However, Runyon has severe doubts about Hanson’s credentials and past and wants his suspicions quelled if she is to ascend to the office of the Vice-President. In his efforts to discredit her, Runyon soon uncovers a potential sex scandal involving Laine Hanson that may or may not be true, which becomes the spotlight of her Senate confirmation.

Gary Oldman easily could have created a character that was repugnant and could be vilified by audiences. Instead, he crafted the character as someone so immersed with his own convictions that he blinds himself to the cruelty he inflicts on Laine Hanson. Additionally, Gary Oldman further crafted Runyon as being beyond a mere D.C. politician stereotype and actually conveyed him as exceedingly intelligent and especially mastered the idea that Runyon can easily intimidate others and has an enjoyment for playing power games, even if it’s with the President. In many regards, Gary Oldman set the bar for how one should portray a political villain effectively within a film.

Gary Oldman was nominated for an SAG for the performance, which caused many to suspect that he would get his first Oscar nomination for The Contender. Unfortunately, the producers for the film placed more emphasis and promotion upon Jeff Bridges regarding the supporting actor category, which ultimately got Bridges the Golden Globe and Oscar nomination over Oldman. Sadly enough, it would take Gary Oldman another 11 years to get his first Oscar nomination, in the leading actor category, for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.



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