'The Front Runner' Movie Review & Commentary

Category: Movies

The Front Runner is the story of Gary Hart and his 1988 presidential campaign. Hart had the nomination in his back pocket but he couldn’t keep his front zipper closed, so to speak, and his indiscretions caused him the presidency and changed the way candidates are covered by the press. This was the turning point when the mainstream press turned into tabloid journalists going after the personal lives of candidates. Whether voters feel the personal lives of the people they put into office are important to how they conduct themselves as public servants is a personal choice, but as we have all seen, personal and public lives intertwine in today’s world.

The movie shows Hart’s dedication and his true desire to improve things in this country. It also shows his philandering and how that affected his career. This would not have been an issue in 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, or any previous year. It was with Gary Hart when the pendulum turned and the quiet secrets the press had with candidates went by the wayside. The scrutiny of personal lives is now an everyday occurrence in politics, rightly or wrongly.

Hugh Jackman plays Gary Hart with the sensitivity and rigor of the candidate. He demonstrates Hart’s desire to keep the campaign on track and on the issues that mattered to the country, and away from his personal life and marriage. Vera Farmiga is Lee Hart who has always been aware of her husband’s “womanizing” but had her own way of living with it. As Lee Hart explained, “You think I should feel humiliated. Feelings that simple are a privilege of being young. Our marriage is complicated. So is our love for each other.”

There are some cute and funny moments in the film. And there are news clips from the past as well as a cute clip from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. To say that the name of the boat on which Hart entangled with Donna Rice, Monkey Business, was fodder for comedy is an understatement.

The Hart campaign implosion came at the time before the Internet became insidious in all of our lives. Voters today are bombarded by the personal lives of candidates, however prior to 1988 the press overlooked the personal infidelities of candidates –and presidents.

Director and co-writer Jason Reitman explained, “This was a moment when the ground shifted underneath everybody—it shifted quickly and afterwards, the world was different. In 1987, you had A Current Affair, the first gossip news show, you had the emergence of the satellite news truck, you had CNN giving their reporters satellite phones for the first time, you had the first generation of reporters who grew up on Woodward and Bernstein as celebrities and you had a new force of women changing the workplace. All of these things were happening at the same time and together, they created conditions Hart failed to foresee.”

He continued, “This was also a moment that informs the moment we’re living in right now—a moment when we are asking really big questions about where media should focus its attention, what is appropriate behavior for people in power, what happens when you’re a whistleblower and how much we have a right to know about each other’s private lives.”

The film is based on the book “All the Truth is Out” by Matt Bai. According to Bai, this was “a story of the moment when the worlds of public service and tabloid entertainment, which had been gradually orbiting closer to one another, finally collided, and of the man who found himself improbably trapped in that collision.”

The movie is an interesting dramatization of the short-lived Gary Hart campaign. It is is at times a mash-up of events, yet it does show Hart’s enigmatic character and intelligence.

As former political consultant Jay Carson explains, “Campaign staffers and journalists are some of the funniest, most sharp- tongued and observant people I’ve ever met,” notes Carson. “I laughed my ass off on every campaign I’ve worked on. And that became one of the most important things to Jason (Reitman), that we use the real language and words you would really hear in the backrooms of campaigns.”

For me, watching this movie was a personal experience. I knew and still know many of the people portrayed in the film. I have personal feelings about them and the campaign, and Gary Hart. The film depicts the edge-of-your-seat hard-talking stress of a presidential campaign. I lived through some of them. I know the high tension involved in such a campaign.

Gary Hart wanted to leave the ultimate decision up to the voters. Was his personal life a factor in the way he would govern the country? But that was too much for his family. In the end the sexual episodes were his downfall. Once the press got hold of the story that was all that they wanted to discuss and write about. So, for Gary Hart, the issues that mattered were being overlooked and overshadowed by his affairs.

It has become a common occurrence these days. Candidates risk everything for sex. Why? Why not keep their eyes on the prize? That is a question many people always ask. But time and time again candidates’ sexual appetites override their professional goals.

Yes, Gary Hart was foolish. Yes, he could have been the President of the United States. For more insight into the man and his ideals he has written several books that help readers understand the state of the world in the past, present, and future.

The Front Runner is an interesting look at Gary Hart, the issues of the day, and the campaign. Many voters today are unaware of Gary Hart. However, ultimately, this is a film that explores the way politics is covered by the media today. It wasn’t always this way.

The Front Runner opens in limited release November 6, 2018, and then expands nationwide on November 21. What Gary Hart stated in his withdrawal speech is prophetic: “Politics in this country – take it from me – is on the verge of becoming another form of athletic competition or sporting match.”

Gary Hart ran the 1972 campaign of George McGovern, ran for the presidency in 1984, was a senator from Colorado for 12 years, and was a beacon of hope and inspiration for many voters. After his 1988 campaign imploded he continued to speak out on behalf of the country and foreign affairs, was the U.S. Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, and continues to be an expert in national security.

About the Author

Francine Brokaw has been covering all aspects of the entertainment industry for over 25 years. She also writes about products and travel. She has been published in national and international newspapers and magazines as well as Internet websites. She has written her own book, Beyond the Red Carpet The World of Entertainment Journalists, from Sourced Media Books.

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