TIFF 2018: The Front Runner

Hugh Jackman stars as Senator Gary Hart in Columbia Pictures' THE FRONT RUNNER. Courtesy of TIFF.

The Front Runner offers striking commentary not only on American politics but the media’s responsibility to report on the players involved.

American politics was different in the 1980s.  There was no such thing as cable news.  People weren’t walking with a computer in their pocket, let alone their palms.  Reporters didn’t have the ability to be published instantaneously.  While some aspects such as the traveling beat are the same, it’s how they are able to do the work that has changed.

So let us go back to this different time in America.  Colorado Senator Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) had just conceded to former Vice President Walter Mondale in the 1984 Democratic primaries.  He was still popular enough that he would automatically become the new front runner upon his 1988 announcement.  This announcement would not come until April 1987.  What would follow was a change in the political media landscape.

It’s quite a different film with regards to Jason Reitman’s filmography.  This one has some aspects of a thriller to it while focusing on Hart’s campaign.  This is never more evident then when the Miami Herald reporters are chasing Hart.  It all started when Tom Fieldler (Steve Zissis) gets a suspicious call.  The moment marks the point in which American political reporting started to evolve into what we know it as today. All of this was preceded by beat reporter A.J. Parker (Mamoudou Athie) witnessing Hart on what appears to be an intimate phone call.  One thing leads to another and the rest is history.

A lot is happening quickly but the film is sure to keep us in the loop on how everyone is reacting.  Hart.  His wife, Lee, and daughter, Andrea.  His campaign team led by Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons).  The media angle from the Washington Post led by managing editor Ben Bradlee (Alfred Molina) and the Miami Herald under Bob Martindale (Kevin Pollack).

Jackman is able to capture Hart’s persona as well as anyone can.  It would be hard to imagine any other actor in the role.  He doesn’t depict him in a way that makes him a hero or a villain.  A lot of this is on the script rather than the acting.

As is the case with any story coming to life on the big screen, things are changed.  One of those changes come by way of one of the most powerful lines of dialogue in the film:

“Follow me around. I don’t care. I’m serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They’ll be very bored.”

Rather than being placed within a New York Times interview with E.J. Dionne, Hart makes these comments during a press conference.  While it veers a bit from what really happened, the impact of those lines is felt very far and wide.

There’s a lot of commentary to be said about how reporting has changed.  Look at what happens in a press conference.  Hart chews out a reporter because he doesn’t feel that the question is relevant.  This serves to remind candidates and elected that the media represents the public interest.  The candidates and officer holders are not the people who get to make these decisions.

Where Simmons’ Dixon seems to be a voice of reason in the Hart campaign, Hart doesn’t see it in the same way.  He doesn’t realize that running for president means having to deal with these scandals.  Like it or not, Hart is the one who put himself in this situation.

The Front Runner reminds us of the important role that the media plays in our political elections.  To quote Tom Fiedler in the film, “It’s up to us to hold these guys accountable.”  These comments couldn’t be more appropriate for the present day era of American politics.

DIRECTOR:  Jason Reitman
SCREENWRITERS:  Matt Bai & Jay Carson & Jason Reitman
CAST:  Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J.K. Simmons, and Alfred Molina

The Front Runner held its international premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations program.  Sony Pictures will release the film on November 6, 2018.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

2 thoughts on “TIFF 2018: The Front Runner

  1. Having lived through the original events of the campaign that destroyed his run for the Presidency and having just read Hart’s “Republic of Conscience” written in 2015 all these decades late, I appreciate your review and certainly plan to see the film. When reporters went from news to Tabloids, it may have cost us a brilliant President, but that will be the problem the audience will get to hash out after seeing it.

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