efore Rod Lurie took his crusading vigor to American television (“Line of Fire,” Commander in Chief”), he made this adroit political thriller that elicited top-notch performances from Jeff Bridges, Joan Allen, and Gary Oldman, three deeply gifted and affecting actors.
Bridges is President Jackson Evans, a second-term Democrat. He’s sprawling, wisecracking, and shrewd. Allen is Senator Laine Hanson, his choice to ascend to the vice presidency when tragedy throws the post open. But the reptilian Republican congressman Sheldon Runyon (Oldman) tries to derail the nomination by dredging out details of alleged college impropriety — video tape emerges suggesting Hanson was willingly involved in a college sex orgy.
What this film is not about is sex. Instead, it’s a keenly pro-liberal study of power politics with an emphasis on personal honor and loyalty. Allen is the ideal foil to Oldman’s deviousness: both are masterful. It’s hard to believe Aaron Sorkin beat Lurie to the idea of “The West Wing” — the movie and the series are kindred spirits.