“The Front Runner” invites you to come and ride on the campaign bus with the leading Presidential candidate in the 1988 Democratic primary. Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) is a US Senator from Colorado, who is smart and well-spoken. He came in second during the 1984 Democrat race, so his star is rising in the party and with people in the country at large. He is from the West, and he believes that the future will be based on leaders from the Western states. He is well-read when it comes to politics, trade policies and economics.
But when it comes to his personal space and his family, Hart is aloof and distant. He is a Democratic fresh face, attractive and ready to lead. However, he does not know that he has created a big target on his back. The press has become more aggressive and intrusive on the past four years. Hart makes personal decisions and mistakes that take his campaign from ‘Front Runner’ status to drop out, all in a matter a few weeks.
Gary Hart and his wife Lee (Vera Farmiga) have gone through the campaign wringer before, and they expect more of the same. Hart has a campaign manager named Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons), who is ready to gather an army of young people that will handle Hart’s march on Washington. Hart plans to do things his way, and not follow the stale old advice of consultants and party bosses. He plans for a Presidential run declaration up high in the foothills of the Rockies. The press starts to grumble that Hart is not keeping with the usual traditions. There are some reporters who start to whisper of Hart having a troubled marriage. Hart continues to concentrate on policy and protocol, proclaiming the first and ignoring the latter. But there is a meeting with a large donor and fund raiser in Miami. He takes a trip on the donor’s yacht, called – of all things – the ‘Monkey Business’.
He meets a very lovely young woman named Donna Rice (Sara Paxton). She is looking for a job with Hart’s campaign, but she winds up catching Hart’s eye. They spend some time together, and he later invites her up to his townhouse in Georgetown. She flies up from Miami, but the Miami Herald catches wind of something going on. A group of reporters and a cameraman camp out outside Hart’s place near Washington. They see various people who come and go, including Hart and an unidentified young woman. The reporters start sending up red flags to the Herald editors. They must run with this story, even if they do not know all the details or the facts surrounding the young woman. They meet Gary Hart in an alleyway near his place, and he demands to know why they are trailing him. He wants his privacy and they do not have his permission to snoop. But they tell him it is a free country and the First Amendment gives them the right to write and publish the news, even if it seems to have become the trashy tabloid variety.
In the next week, the press is all over this story. They are staking out Lee Hart, out in her country home in Colorado, in a tiny, out-of-the-way place called Troublesome Gulch. It becomes an apt description, because soon the towering pines on the dirt road stand next to TV satellite dishes and large antennas. The Press, especially the TV media, have planted themselves there to report that Lee has not left the building. Other reporters chase down Donna Rice for an exclusive story about her time with Gary Hart. Hart is still on the campaign trail and stops to make a speech about economic policy.
But the only thing the press wants to know about is Hart’s relationships. Is he faithful to his wife? Is he in the middle on an adulterous affair? Can he continue to be Front Runner with all these unanswered questions surrounding him? The media and press turn into paparazzi and Hart undergoes scrutiny unlike any other candidate. Even the Washington Post gets into the examination, led by Ben Bradlee (Alfred Molina). The boxing gloves had come off and it became bare-knuckle fighting…
Jason Reitman has created, in terms of directing and co-writing, a powerful story of what can happen when the Press decides to pull out all the stops. Before anyone come up with calling the press “Fake News”, they held a powerful grip on the political system and who was able to get to the top. Hugh Jackman does a fine job playing Hart, who is caught up in his own position papers that he doesn’t realize that he put himself into a compromising position. Vera Farmiga and Sara Paxton play the two women in Hart’s life that lead him into the abyss. J. K. Simmons is also good as the campaign manager that cannot believe his campaign is falling apart around him.
“The Front Runner” gets you into a wild and crazy world of campaigning. It is a world that is made even crazier when Hart goes from being “The Front Runner” to “Front Page News”…