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SERIES 7 – The Contenders
5 Stars - Excellent

Series 7: the contenders' struggle

Harsh reality TV

STARS: Brooke Smith, Glenn Fitzgerald, Marylouise Burke, Richard Venture, Michael Kaycheck, Merritt Wever
DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: Daniel Minahan
CERTIFICATE: 18 • DISTRIBUTOR and Image copyright: Film Four
RUNNING TIME: 1hr 27mins
OPENING DATE (UK): June 01

Big Brother is for wimps and Castaway – ha! – that’s a luxury full-board break in the Caribbean compared to the latest reality TV hybrid. Now in its seventh series, the top-rated US show ‘The Contenders’ sees six contestants randomly chosen on a televized lottery and given a cameraman and a gun. Taking part is compulsory and, if you win the show enough times, you will be allowed to retire from the game. There is only one rule: you must kill all the other contenders.

That’s the inspired starting point for Minahan’s clever, caustic and occasionally chilling shape of things to come, which is, believe it or not, one of the most entertaining films of the year so far. Shot on video and adopting a totally credible TV format complete with a throaty announcer, frank confessionals, ad break re-caps, looky-likey re-constructions and suitably melodramatic mood music, this immediately feels like the Real McCoy.

The biting brilliance of this imaginary show’s construction aside, what’s impressive is how the film manages to rise above mere novelty value, totally sustaining interest over 87 minutes, aided by its believably human contenders, who end up interacting in the most unexpected of ways. The central contender and current champ is eight-months-pregnant Dawn (Smith), who is only one show from safety, or more specifically, the safety of her unborn child. Among her rivals for freedom are Connie (Burke), a deeply religious nurse who is shaping up to be Dawn’s strongest adversary; artist Jeff (Fitzgerald), dying painfully of testicular cancer and content to be put out of his misery; and sweet-as-apple pie teenager Lindsay (Wever), constantly barked orders by her overbearing parents.

If it all sounds rather sick, you’ll be surprised at the level of tenderness and humanity that worms its way into the show, as it gathers pace to a wonderfully worked final showdown. Though you won’t recognize the cast (aside from possibly Burke, the kidnapped Senator’s daughter in The Silence of the Lambs), rather than using amateurs, Minahan has plumped for little-known, but very capable performers, who bring real psychological credibility to the film/show.

Hilariously tabloid TV accurate from start to finish – assisted greatly by a director and crew who have worked on many genuine reality TV shows – Series 7 silently sends up modern society’s voyeuristic thirst with inventiveness and ironic wit to die for.

Jason Caro

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Reviews © Visual Imagination Ltd 2001. Not for reproduction.

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FULL DETAILS AND REVIEWS OF ALL THESE AND MORE IN THIS ISSUE

5 Stars; Excellent
BEFORE NIGHT FALLS
June 15
THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR
June 29

4 Stars; Recommended
BANDE À PART June 22
CROUPIER June 01
GINGER SNAPS June 29
LATE NIGHT SHOPPING June 22
MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT
(Nightcap) June 08
NOWHERE TO HIDE June 29
LA SAISON DES HOMMES June 29