The presidency of Bill Clinton and the myriad of news stories about his lecherous ways — changed many American voters standards of morality toward their political leaders. From Gennifer Flowers to Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton is notably known for his extracurricular love life.
However, in the 1980s there was a man running for office who was ahead of the ticket in several states and was a sure thing to become next President of the United States until he made the fatal mistake of having an affair that would change the course of his career.
Jason Reitman brings us the story of Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) based on Matt Bai’s All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid, The Front Runner. Hart was at the height of his race for front-runner when a scandal broke completely derailing his win for the presidential bid. Hart was found having an extramarital affair with Donna Rice (Sara Paxton) by the press and later dropped out of the race as the controversy swelled to the American public.
Hugh Jackman looking very un-Jackman like with a bad wig and an older appearance —stars in this story based on true events surrounding the candidacy of Gary Hart. His wife Lee Hart (Vera Farmiga) who is forced to deal with the embarrassment of having her family scrutinized by the public and processing her husband’s ultimate betrayal.
Gary Hart’s run for President was during a time I was still in elementary school, so I’m not familiar with his character. Reading his background, he was a compelling and charismatic individual. The American people loved him. However, in Reitman’s film, Hart is pretty dull and lackluster and we’re not fully convinced why he’s the front-runner in the first place. In fact, the film barely shows much of Hart’s campaigning and places its emphasis more on a “clash of the journalists” and their search for the truth behind Hart’s philandering.
The movie fails to translate Hart as a man presented to be the voice of the new generation. His public speeches aren’t captivating and he lacks the charm that is supposed to win over voters.
The film doesn’t scrutinize why Hart feels compelled to engage in an extramarital affair, so when it does happen, we don’t know a whole lot about his habits and character. The Front Runner feels like it was made 20 years too late. Compared now to the era post-Clinton and now Trump who has set a new bar for unethical behavior and political scandals, this film doesn’t quite have the stylish flamboyance it was meant to have if it were made during an earlier time. In other words, this story is small potatoes compared to what we’re seeing today in the Trump administration.
When Hart is interviewed by the Miami Herald and even was so bold to tell them to follow him around, they use that as a license to investigate him and conduct stakeouts in front of his home.
However, as the film progresses you realize this isn’t much of a story about Gary Hart himself and his affair, but it is about the state of establishment journalism vs. tabloid journalism. The Washington Post takes a different turn from their standard practices and falls into the rabbit hole of tabloid journalism and the story becomes more sensationalized than any other political scandal historically involving a cheating spouse.
It’s confusing if Reitman’s focus here is the story of Gary Hart — a man who falls from grace or the industry of journalism. What is considered to be ethical to write about and what isn’t? Sadly, the film just didn’t execute its message enough to resonate and squanders the talent of so many prolific actors in its cast. We barely get enough from Vera Farmiga, Alfred Molina or J.K. Simmons to give the film more seasoning. It’s just bland, forgettable, and film with a story that doesn’t go outside the box.
If you’re interested in the shift of journalistic coverage during the 80s, then maybe this is a film to get some more insight and perspective on, but don’t come here expecting some powerful story about the life of Gary Hart.
The Front Runner will be released via TriStar Pictures November 7, 2018
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online community for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She's the primary film critic for BGN and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critic Association