In Cinemas 01/19
Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, Alfred Molina
"This is the entitled world of the high-achieving married man which surprises no one more than Gary Hart when he is brought down by the press."
"The film leaves the viewer to decide if Hart’s downfall is deserved or unjustified; whether a great potential President is vilified, or a hypocrite exposed."
Set in the eighties, The Front Runner traces US Democrat, Senator Gary Hart’s presidential campaign. Good looking and clean cut, in the mold of John F. Kennedy, Hart looks like a sure bet. Surrounded by a dedicated team of Ivy League graduates and feted by the reputable press, Hart indulges in the occasional liaison. When he meets Donna Rice, a stunning model, on a millionaire’s yacht, ironically named “Monkey Business”, he is non-the-wiser to the consequences of his misdemeanours.
The Front Runner suggests this is a pivotal moment when the broadsheets joined the tabloids in exposing the personal lives of men in authority. Previously, they colluded in turning a blind eye to the sexual exploits of high-ranking officials. To do otherwise would bring their outlet into disrepute, after all they were concerned with the lofty matters of policy and political events.
The idea that a married man’s sex life has any bearing on his political convictions was thought nonsense and nobody’s business. This is the entitled world of the high-achieving married man which surprises no one more than Gary Hart when he is brought down by the press. Indeed, JFK’s affairs did not have any bearing on his political campaigns, but rather embellished his boyish appeal.
The Front Runner slickly transfers this mindset to screen. Gary Hart is outraged by the press for transgressing this code of practice; investigative journalists squirm apologetically before his indignation; Mrs Hart, unhappily resigned to her husband’s adultery, is appalled by the press’s behaviour. The pace is gripping, and we watch events unravel with foreboding.
Hugh Jackman, as the perfect embodiment of Hart, is relentlessly affronted by the attack on his personal life, insistent that it is nothing to do with his political views. Like JFK, he commits adultery but not flagrantly. The subject is distasteful. He is politically integral. The film leaves the viewer to decide if Hart’s downfall is deserved or unjustified; whether a great potential President is vilified, or a hypocrite exposed. And who or what is "the front runner", the press or the politician?
(Reviewed London Film Festival October 2018)