The Front Runner

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The Front Runner
"The film stands back, doesn’t take sides. As a political thriller it stays out of politics. As a human drama it rocks to a gentle rhythm." | Photo: Sony Pictures

Names come filtering through the smog of memory - JFK, The Comeback Kid and now this guy, Gary Hart. His was the face to watch during training days for the presidential race in 1988. After leaving Jack the Lad alone all those years when adultery and The White House fitted like a wet condom and respect for the office still counted for something amongst wordsmiths and their editors, reporters were careful what they wrote. These days The Donald calls anything he doesn’t like Fake News, implying that what you read in the papers or on the web is someone else’s propaganda and not worth the price of a sausage roll.

The Front Runner is an attack on the way the press behave in a crisis - forget the crisis, how they behave, period! If the story has a personal touch, especially salacious, that’s good for sales. Hart was an attractive man, a senator. If he had a weakness for the ladies it was underplayed and cleverly disguised. His wife Lee (Vera Farmiga) lived somewhere else and seldom came to Washington. She was busy and enjoyed the kudos of a contender’s other half although the family side was more important than the public.

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What have we here? Sex and politics? Me Too in another venue at another time? Newshounds sniff for dirt where there may be nothing to see, or there may be something to exaggerate. Cynicism, their drug of choice, fills the space where truth and sympathy cannot find a footing, It’s worse now but this was then. Who was Kevin Hart anyway? Not important, or rather it is important because intelligence and understanding are rare assets among those in positions of power.

The press, played here by seedies in charity shop rejects, stake out the contender’s town house because the rumble in the rumour mill suggests that someone else is staying over and her name isn’t Lee. It’s Donna Rice (Sara Paxton), young, blonde, everything you ever wanted. She worked for his campaign. After a couple of papers ran with the story she made an announcement that nothing had happened. Hart ridiculed the reporters and said there were more serious problems facing the country. Like what? Sleeping with interns? He threw them out.

Lee stayed. Hart gave up his presidential bid, realising that speculation was 9/10th of fact, however the truth sits. Response from the people was positive. They didn’t want to lose him and then they did.

The film stands back, doesn’t take sides. As a political thriller it stays out of politics. As a human drama it rocks to a gentle rhythm. Donna leaves quietly. Life moves on. Hugh Jackman portrays Hart as a man of culture, a good speaker, hardly a danger to your daughter.

The reporters expose their profession as morally defunct although covering a presidential bid looks like the second most boring job in town after interviewing the winner’s family. Director Jason Reitman has not made a boring film which, considering the odds, is a considerable achievement, especially since he avoids making hay with Donna in the barn, accusing her of being a victim, not a girl with a mind of her own.

Reviewed on: 12 Jan 2019
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The Front Runner packshot
The story of Gary Hart, whose presidential campaign was rocked by scandal.

Director: Jason Reitman

Writer: Matt Bai, Jay Carson, Jason Reitman, Matt Bai

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, Sara Paxton, Kaitlyn Dever, Molly Ephraim, J.K. Simmons, Courtney Ford, Ari Graynor, Kevin Pollak, Alfred Molina, Bill Burr, Daniel Kang, Jennifer Landon, Chris Coy, Mike Judge

Year: 2018

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

London 2018

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