The Front Runner
Jason Reitman’s latest film “The Front Runner”, about the sudden and unexpected demise of Gary Hart’s 1988 Presidential campaign, plays out like something from an ancient history lesson. Given the events of the last 7 presidential elections, the throwback to the 1988 season will be moral and social norms unfamiliar to younger Americans. It was a time when affairs were discreetly relegated to well-known rumors, when newspapers still mattered, and tabloid television was just finding a footing.
Without ever even showing the iconic photo that came to represent the Hart campaign’s disastrous ending (it actually surfaced after the candidate had left the race), this film covers the frantic three weeks of a monumental collapse. Populated with strong performances through-out, the film is almost Sorkin-esque in overlapping conversations and barely controlled chaos. You may not learn characters names, but it is enough to know which team they belong to – the Hart campaign, the Miami Herald, the Washington Post.
Hugh Jackman does a good job of portraying both the coldly professional government leader and the warm human underneath, with the two sides rarely crossing the line. Vera Farmiga is excellent as Lee Hart, the fierce wife who long ago made her decision to stand by her fallible man, unexpectedly thrown into the spotlight a decade before Hillary Clinton had her own Tammy Wynette moment, for arguably different motives. And Sara Paxton hits the right notes as the model/actress Donna Rice, who has no idea the storm she is about to be set adrift into, and – maybe too much – needs you to understand how smart she really is.
It’s a time of seismic shift as the political and news worlds are colliding with the entertainment industry, and for a man whose campaign is all about the future, the absolute lack of Hart’s ability to see what was coming and adapt is what finally derails the almost certain nominee. But Hart isn’t the only one lost in the change – veteran newsmen and campaign workers alike are unbalanced by the new era. JK Simmons, playing wily political vet Bill Dixon laments it all – “This isn’t 1976. It isn’t even 1982. It’s all changed, and I don’t know why.”
Hart is doomed but fiery and steadfast in his convictions over what he deems to be important, what is personal, and the clear difference between them. He is so fervent, you want to applaud his stand until you remember what awful things lie under it.
In the end, “The Front Runner” is a timely study of a tipping point moment in American politics. But somehow the film, smooth and well-made, keeps us at arm’s length, leaving the viewer a little separated from the personal emotions of the real people caught in the story. There’s a sense of distance between the private and the public. Gary Hart would have approved.
Directed by Jason Reitman
Written by Matt Bai (based on book " All the truth is out")
and Jason Reitman
Rating – R
Lenth – 1hr 43mins
Biography / drama
Grade – B+