American Senator Gary Hart’s presidential campaign in 1988 is derailed when he’s caught in a scandalous love affair.
At one point in time, Gary Hart was seen as lock for the democratic presidential nomination and indeed the presidency itself, yet his part in history is now reduced to a footnote and his story stands as one of the many ‘what if’s’ in US political history. I’d never heard of Gary Hart before ‘The Front Runner’ and I suspect many viewers on this side of the pond will be the same unless they’re an anorak on US politics, but his story is interesting and marks the beginning of a path to the political and celebrity landscape we witness today. In ‘The Front Runner’, we follow Hart’s campaign for the 1988 presidency over a period of three weeks which saw his candidacy come crashing down when the media uncovered evidence of an extramarital affair.
Scandal in politics is nothing new, and indeed it wasn’t anything new when Gary Hart was around (I mean, this is the country of Richard Nixon who was brought down less than 15 years prior), but the lines between public and private life were still fairly clearly defined. Hart marks a turning point in where these lines were drawn and as much as anything he’s a man undone by his own hubris, and his steadfast belief that everything will blow over and things will move on. Of course we know this is not the case. It throws up several interesting themes about whether public figures ‘deserve’ a private life but the filmmakers are more content to stand and observe as opposed to delving into these themes with any real conviction, which is a shame as the film could have been even more compelling.
I liked the performances across the board, from a reliable supporting cast led by J. K. Simmons to Hugh Jackman as Hart himself, who excels as an undoubtedly intelligent man who yet fails to see the iceberg coming. Vera Farmiga plays his wife, who isn’t entirely unaware of his behaviour, and she’s terrific in a couple of small scenes but like the woman at the centre of the scandal (Donna Rice, played by Sara Paxton), she’s underused as the film pivots back to the media and Hart himself. The script plays a little cute with the knowledge of what would come and the writing isn’t as sharp as it could be, but I was always engaged by ‘The Front Runner’ and it acts as an intriguing primer for the often maddening and tribalistic politics we live with in the present.
Directed By: Jason Reitman
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J. K. Simmons, Alfred Molina, Sara Paxton, Mamoudou Athie, John Bedford Lloyd, Spencer Garrett, Steve Coulter, Ari Graynor, Kaitlyn Dever, Toby Huss, Steve Zissis, Bill Burr, Mike Judge, Kevin Pollak, Tommy Dewer, Molly Ephraim, Josh Brener, Mark O’Brien, Alex Karpovsky, Oliver Cooper, Chris Foy and Courtney Ford