The Front Runner

Directed by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Jason Reitman who is best known for 2007’s Juno and 2009’s Up in the Air, The Front Runner is a fascinating political drama about the Democratic rising star politician Gary Hart whose aspirations for the presidency came crashing down after the revelation of a scandal during the election of 1988; the film is marked by a terrific ensemble cast led by Hugh Jackman. We first meet the charismatic and Kennedy-esque Colorado Senator Gary Hart, played by the terrific Academy Award nominee Hugh Jackman, after his failed bid for the Democratic nomination in the 1984 presidential election. Buoyed by support from the youth and the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party, Gary Hart decides to run again in 1988 and quickly emerges as the front runner for the nomination and even the presidency. Alongside his strong wife Lee, played by Academy Award nominee Vera Farmiga, he embarks on a refreshing political campaign in which he has a deep understanding of the issues and is able to convey it to enthusiastic voters. His highly energetic campaign is run by his officious and highly skilled campaign manager Bill Dixon, played by Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons, whose job becomes increasingly difficult once a story in the Miami Herald goes public revealing that he is having an extramarital affair with a young woman he meets on a chartered yacht out of Miami. The story is discovered by ambitious journalist Tom Fielder working for the Miami Herald who is eventually given the go-ahead to publish the story by the editor played by Kevin Pollak. Fielder along with another journalist played by comedian Bill Burr travel to DC to confront Senator Hart in the alley outside his townhome to ask him questions about the alleged affair. At the time, the personal lives of politicians were largely kept out of the media, and the publication of the story set the precedent for investigating the private lives of politicians, especially if it involves a scandal. Becoming more of a movie about journalism, the film also explores the initial hesitancy of the Washington Post and its famed editor Ben Bradlee, played by Alfred Molina, to follow up on the Miami Herald article that was at first deemed tabloid material and beneath the national press. Gary Hart’s campaign with the help of his hard-working manager goes into crisis mode and tries to figure out how to revive the flailing aspirations of Senator Hart. The movie does a good job of portraying his mistress Donna Rice, played by Sara Paxton, in a sympathetic light and shows how she had to go into hiding in order to avoid the media who continually harasses her for information about her affair. It also explores the intense relationship between Gary Hart and his strong-willed wife who expresses her anger at his indiscretions but tries to stay at his side as his campaign goes off the rails. Although the script sometimes veers off-course and could have explored the important issues in greater depth, the film itself becomes a good starting point for discussing the issues at hand that are even more relevant in today’s society with the prevalence of cable news and social media affecting modern politics. In addition, Hugh Jackman brings his greatest performance to the screen by embodying a flawed yet talented politician who appears remorseful for cheating on his wife and actually caring about the direction of the United States even after his presidential hopes are dramatically and publicly dashed. Overall, I found it to be a intriguing political and journalism movie that kept me engaged as a result of its true life aspects about such a transformative scandal that still has repercussions to this day, and I felt it was made even better by the truly top-notch acting performances, especially from Hugh Jackman.

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