The Front Runner: Sex, lies and Hugh Jackman’s fabulous hair
Review: Greatest Showman star plays scandal-hit presidential candidate Gary Hart
The Front Runner: Hugh Jackman plays presidential hopeful Gary Hart
Film Title: The Front Runner
Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: Hugh Jackman, J. K. Simmons, Vera Farmiga, Alfred Molina, Mamoudou Athie
Running Time: 113 min
Composed of the cinematographer Eric Steelberg’s long, snaking takes and Altmanesque overlapping dialogue and soundtracks, The Front Runner parachutes the viewer into the cut and thrust of the 1984 race for the Democratic nomination for the US presidential election, just as Gary Hart is conceding to Walter Mondale.
Hart had enough charisma, smarts and fabulous hair that they’ve had to draft in Hugh Jackman, the Greatest Showman, to play the role. His time will surely come.
Fast-forward to 1987 and Hart, a US senator from Colorado, is the presumed front runner in the Democratic race. A furiously private fellow, he talks about economics and the environment and seems entirely oblivious to the creeping tabloidisation of US media and politics, even after he catches two Miami Herald journalists on a stake-out at his Washington town house. The details are juicy: Hart is entertaining a pretty blonde named Donna Rice (Sara Paxton), whom he met on a yacht named Monkey Business.
The historical details are impeccable but the events have been pointedly repurposed as a cautionary tale that leads all the way to Donald Trump. A script written by Reitman, the Clinton adviser Jay Carson and the journalist Matt Bai, whose book All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid serves as the source material, is a bit too enthralled with that thesis and perhaps with Hart himself.
If public figures were allowed private lives, it hints, Hart might have been president. So no Gulf War and none of the domino effects of that conflict.
In keeping with this notion, The Front Runner pitches good press – as personified by a young, idealistic, fictionalised journalist for the Washington Post (Mamoudou Athie) – and bad press; see the unflattering depiction of the Miami Herald employees.
Against this, Reitman’s thought-provoking film considers the appalling treatment of Donna Rice and the clever choral dialogue allows for alternative viewpoints, as does Jackman’s canny rendition of Hart. The Washington Post reporter Ann Devroy (Ari Graynor), for one, understandably explains that she can’t trust Hart if he uses his position in the way that he apparently has.
It’s nauseating, too, when her boss Ben Bradlee (Alfred Molina) wistfully recalls President Lyndon B Johnson telling reporters that women will be coming to his hotel room and that he expects the same degree of privacy accorded to President John F Kennedy.
The film shares intriguing intersections with All the President’s Men, The Post and The Candidate, the pacy chatter is never less than compelling, and there are lovely supporting turns from Vera Farmiga as Hart’s long-suffering wife and JK Simmons as his beleaguered campaign manager.