Bad timing is the key takeaway from the story of Gary Hart's failed presidential campaign portrayed in The Front Runner. Politicians a generation before from Eisenhower, to LBJ and of course JFK had an unspoken understanding with the press that their personal lives were off limits. The sexual scandal itself took place at the birth of tabloid journalism igniting an appetite for the American public for the salacious details of the affair. It's also bad timing that the film is coming out now in the Trump era where such an incident today would not even cause a candidate to blink. The film opens at the tail end of the 1984 Democratic race for President where a camera weaves around a political campaign hotel room eventually getting to Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) as he is about to concede to Walter Mondale. Jump to the start of the 1988 race where Hart is the clear Front Runner to be the next President of the United States. He has the look, is the darling of the media, is full of boundless energy and a forward thinker. His run undone by a dalliance on a boat with a model named Donna Rice who he later flew up to his Washington brownstone while his wife was back home in Colorado with his daughter. The bad timing for Hart also referred to the leap forward in technology of the time. News coverage had increased. Information zips through fax machines, reports now appeared live on scene supported by news vans with satellite up -links.
Director Jason Reitman and writer Matt Bai whose book All The Truth is Out:The Week Politics Went Tabloid is the blueprint for the film take a sympathetic approach towards Hart. They show him as a friend to the press particularly in a scene where he helps a reporter AJ Parker (Mamoudou Athie) deal with a fear of turbulence as a premise to make the reporter seem ungrateful later when asking Hart tough questions. The Miami Herald reporters that cement the story are shown as unsavory staking out Hart's Washington brownstone then confronting him in the back alley of his residence in the middle of the night to ask questions about Rice.
The biggest flaw with the production is that the story is no longer relevant today. There is no need to tell this story in today's political climate where a similar event today would not even occupy an afternoon of the news cycle. The theory of if Hart had won things would be different today is a trip down an unknown rabbit hole that can be labeled as fake news.
Hugh Jackman turns in a strong layered bold and blind performance as Gary Hart. Vera Farmiga fleshes out a more complicated role that it appears at first glance as Hart's wife Lee . She has an understanding with her husband that is tolerable in a private setting but not as much when the medical is camped out at her front gate. The strong lead performances, however, cannot propel the film into the realm of recommended viewing given the subject matter does not resonate today.
** Out of 4.
The Front Runner | Jason Reitman | U.S.A. | 113 Minutes.
Tags: Politics, Washington, Democratic Party, 1988 Presidential Campaign, Sex Scandal, Colorado, Miami Herald, Stakeout, Press Conference.