Remember Gary Hart?

“The Front Runner” is a film chronicling the collapse of Democratic Senator Gary Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign after the exposure of an affair.  Hugh Jackman stars as the disgraced senator from Colorado. Vera Farmiga plays his wife, Oletha Hart.  Alfred Molina, J.K. Simmons, and Sara Paxton are also part of the well-chosen cast. Jason Reitman directed this piece and co-wrote it alongside Matt Bai and Jay Carson.

Jackman is unsurprisingly quite compelling in his portrayal of Senator Hart.  It’s not that easy to sympathize with Hart in the grand scheme of things, however Jackman does well to bring out the other more human side of the story.  It is easy to see why so many people were captivated by Hart and probably disappointed by the behavior that led to the demise of his presidential run.  I don’t quite remember how Hart presented himself at the time, but Jackman’s interpretation does appear quite accurate.

A rather surprising facet the film puts forth is the question of how far reporters should go to pursue the story.  It delves into the apparent sleaziness of them basically staking out Hart’s townhome to catch him in a compromising position.  It also explores the impact and emotional consequences Donna Rice faced when she was exposed as the other woman.  I had not heard of Sara Paxton before, however she seemed pretty convincing as the beleaguered Rice.  Really, there wasn’t a performance in this film that I found unnatural or problematic.

The movie does spend quite a bit of time displaying the initial campaign before the big story broke.  It takes some patience to get to the meat of the story, but upon reflection I think the wait was worth it.

Hart was a charismatic and complicated guy apparently as many politicians are. The movie does a good job of covering many aspects of this situation and avoiding just telling the audience as to what side to come down on.  I could side with the reporters sometimes and yet still agree with some concerns Hart raised.  The concerns I could agree with had to deal with how the journalists sometimes conducted themselves to get the story.  I probably wouldn’t have much sympathy for Hart’s political positions.  This is one movie where some ambiguity is tolerable.

I thought Hart raised some good points regarding the methods the reporters used to discover his infidelity even through he clearly was rather deficient in the morality department.  How much intrusion should his wife and children have suffered from the press after his affair was discovered?  One the other hand, the reporters depicted have a pretty strong point in that this man wanted to be President of the United States and how he treats his marriage could be indicative of his views on ethics and morality.  Should the people place that much trust in someone who could not keep his vows to his wife?

It’s not a movie that will get the heart racing with excitement, but it is thought-provoking.  The cast all gave solid performances.  The film seems to drag a little at times due to the various meetings and debates, however I am not sure how could have been left out since that’s how probably much of the decisions were reached.

It’s probably not a film that everyone would appreciate, but I think it raises some interesting points for discussion.  Hart did continue to have a public service career even after this hullaballoo and some depiction of the aftermath of Hart’s scandal could have been explored a bit more.

The strengths of this effort significantly outweigh the weaknesses here.  It turned out to be a pretty good film.

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