I remember the Gary Hart affair. Hart and Donna Rice were on the news and SNL mocked him. If only 10-year-old Fred had a movie like The Front Runner to make him more informed.
For one, I never knew what Hart’s policies were which is telling. I was only 10 but the affair was blasted out, not any of his political positions. I also didn’t know how big he was before any of this happened. Could he have beaten Bush I?
The Front Runner portrays an energetic campaign for the Veep generation. A lot of single takes capture hectic action at campaign events and it all feels natural.
When reporters get wind of Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman)’s affairs, they are not the ace reporters of All the President’s Men. They are bumbling and nervous, as I would be if I’m assigned to get dirt on someone with invasive tactics.
The film has sympathy for Hart. Hart believes in the people to be above this, and he was wrong. Jackman gets a righteous anger speech or two for his Oscar clip.
Some characters agree Hart is right too. The Washington Post even admits they looked the other way for JFK and LBJ but now the readers decide what’s news.
And look how far we’ve come since 1988. By 2016 blatant public affairs and bragging about sexual assault didn’t matter, not to mention imitating a reporter’s physical disability. Remember when Howard Dean lost an entire election for screaming too loud once?
The Front Runner does present the other side too. Post staffer Ann Devroy (Ari Graynor) calls out Hart’s abuse of power and opportunity.
The film sympathizes with Rice (Sara Paxton) too. A campaign staffer speculates this scandal will follow Rice around forever.
After watching Brett Kavanagh yell and scream, it’s interesting to see The Front Runner. In the end it looks like Hart lost because he wavered in his defense. He didn’t double down on his conviction and people pounced.
That shouldn’t be how it is. We should recognize that the people with unwavering conviction are dangerous and the people who second guess themselves probably have more honor. But if people believed that, I guess the sleazy schemers would just learn how to put on an air of humility.
The Front Runner has its Hart in the right place (get it?) but it maybe bites off more than it can chew in under two hours. It can’t give Hart, the Miami Herald, The Washington Post, Hart’s wife Lee (Vera Farmiga), his daughter Andrea (Kaitlyn Dever), Donna Rice and the head of the Hart campaign Bill (J.K. Simmons) the focus each aspect of the story warrants.
So it bounces from idea to idea, only paying lip service to the complexity of opposing ideas at work here. And when Hart’s plane goes through turbulence, that’s a pretty heavy handed metaphor.
The Front Runner is a good portrayal of a political history that paved the way for even dirtier politics. For viewers under 30 it should be informative, and even those who lived through it probably didn’t get the whole story from the news.
It’s definitely not The Post or Spotlight, but then the Gary Hart affair was not as righteous an event as those films. Maybe if he had persevered and won it could have been triumphant, but now it just leaves you feeling like that was a shame. Not a tragedy, but a bit of a pity.
The Front Runner is now playing in New York in L.A. It opens everywhere November 21.