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USA 2019
Directed by
Jason Reitman
109 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Front Runner

Synopsis: Senator Gary Hart’s second presidential campaign began on April 13, 1987. Three weeks later it was finished after the revelation of Hart’s serial marital infidelities.

Before there was Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski there was Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) and Donna Rice (Sara Paxton). Both men were undone by their penises although Hart’s story has until now been far less well-known (and probably Hart, who is now in his eighties, wishes that it still was).

Although Jason Reitman’s film does not look forward to Clinton let alone Donald Trump who paid hush money to cover up his extramarital dalliances with porn stars it does look back, specifically to JFK, a notorious womanizer and Lyndon Johnson who stepped into his shoes apparently, we are told by one of the old guard print journos (Alfred Molina), in more ways than one. No doubt Reitman, who co-wrote the script with Matt Bai and Jay Carson, based on Bai’s book ‘All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid’, wants us to reflect on these matters and indeed, more than the actual events depicted it is as a chapter in the history of the American Presidency that his film is most interesting.

Reitman is essentially sympathetic to Hart, an intelligent, committed, if somewhat blinkered and emotionally defensive Democrat senator, who managed to go, as the title neatly puts, from being the front runner in the 1988 Presidential race to an also-ran, effectively handing the job to George H. W. Bush.  However probably because Hart is not given to revealing his personal life The Front Runner is less about him than his downfall at the hands of the prurient press and the beginning of anything goes news-as-entertainment “journalism”.

While the first part of the film depicts the hubbub of excitement that was Hart’s campaign it is when the proverbial hits the fan that the film becomes interesting. Can Hart dig himself out of the hole into which he’s inexorably driven himself.  His seasoned campaign manager Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons in fine form) thinks so but he is fighting a losing battle with getting the intransigent Hart to bow down to the very people who are the targets of his forward-looking political policies.

In the lead Hugh Jackman gives an impressive performance as the embattled senator (although one can’t help wondering why more time wasn’t spent on getting his wig to be comparably convincing) and Vera Farmiga is effective in her relatively small role as his patiently forbearing wife.

I have seen The Front Runner with its busy, multi-charactered story-telling described as “Altmanesque” but bar the opening scene set during Walter Mondale’s 1984 campaign  Reitman stays much more focused on re-creating the time, the people and the events faithfully. In this respect I had trouble reconciling myself to the (fictional) character of A.J. Parker (Mamoudou Athie) a Washington Post reporter who seems too obviously designed to articulate the vexed moral quandary at the film’s heart –  how much should we expect of the relationship between public propriety and private probity?

The disastrous Trump presidency has shown that the answer is “a lot”.




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