THE FRONT RUNNER – Review by Susan Granger
I don’t recall being as angry at a protagonist as I was watching former Senator Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) foolishly throw away the opportunity to be President of the United States for an alleged liaison with a woman he’d met in Miami.
This film chronicles the three weeks during 1988 election, when the Senator from Colorado, about whom rumors of infidelity had circulated for years, imploded his political career by inviting Miami Herald reporters to follow him around to see what an uninteresting life he led.
So they trailed him and discovered Donna Rice (Sara Paxon) was flying from Miami to meet him in Washington, D.C., That led to unearthing that infamous photo of Rice sitting on Hart’s lap near the Monkey Business yacht, where they’d met.
When the subsequent scandal caused Hart to withdraw his Presidential bid, it signified a ‘new era’ in predatory political reporting. Previously, the press had ignored the extramarital affairs of FDR, JFK and Lyndon Johnson. And years later, Bill Clinton survived a similar scandal, along with Donald Trump.
Scripted by Matt Bai , author of “All the Truth Is Out” (2014), with Jay Carson and director Jason Reitman, it chronicles the moment when “politics went tabloid,” creating the celebrity culture surrounding the Presidency with Trump as the logical endpoint to what started back then.
Even an actor as appealing as Hugh Jackman cannot make Gary Hart’s lack of judgment palatable, although both Hart and Rice have denied they had an affair. And The Atlantic reported that dying Lee Atwater, Republican rival George H.W. Bush’s campaign manager, had set Hart up.
“Gary is a private person by nature, but also a believer that there should be a separation between the public and private lives of a politician,” says Jackman. “We’re all human. We’ve all got flaws, but what level of flaws will you accept?”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Front Runner” is a fast-paced, yet frustrating 5, chronicling the downfall of a promising politician.