Two Hidden Gems Before Lockdowns End? The Contender (2000) & Free Fire (2016)

As lockdowns begin to ease up, my at home film viewing may start to wane a bit, so I wanted to present two very different movies, both unfairly overlooked on release, but which have since accrued growing reputations amongst some film buffs.


First up, The Contender.

The Contender - Trailer


Directed by Rod Lurie (The Last Castle, The Outpost), this political drama comes across as a darker twin to Rob Reiner’s American President five year earlier.  Faked heroism, phony moralising and genuine idealism all come into play – aided mightily by a great cast that includes Jeff Bridges (as the President), Joan Allen, Sam Elliott, Christian Slater, William Petersen, Phillip Baker Hall and Gary Oldman.


The Contender wears its political heart on its sleeve, but strong performances and a solid screenplay help the end result add up to a gripping drama from either side of the aisle. Oldman, whose political views veer right of centre was apparently miffed by the liberal slant of the completed picture.


Here’s a scene of the potential vice-president nominee in the film (played by Joan Allen), where she explains that she is for a “woman’s right to choose” and that she stands for “every gun being taken out of every home, period.”


Moving forward to 2016, we have Ben (Kill List, A Field in England) Wheatley’s warehouse-set comedy-thriller is a real treat.


Free Fire


Free Fire aims squarely for genre thrills, and hits its target repeatedly and with great gusto — albeit with something less than pure cinematic grace. Punchy and well delivered dialogue give this bloodthirsty little movie real zest, drawing in part its inspiration from the storeroom shoot-outs in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992).  Set in 1970s Boston (actually filmed in Brighton, England), the film depicts the fall out from a IRA gun running deal that goes spectacularly t*ts up.


Like The Contender, the picture boasts a terrific cast, with Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Patrick (Sleeping with the Enemy) Bergin and old pal Noah Taylor all turning in strong performances.




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Stephen Arnell

Culture Comment Content Provider. Portrait courtesy of artist Darren Coffield. 'Non satis me tempo'