The Front Runner: The story of a political scandal feels more like apologia

by Russell Baillie / 11 February, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - The Front Runner movie

A new movie about American Senator Gary Hart’s failed presidential bid doesn't quite chime with the mood of 2019.

After Spotlight in 2015 and The Post last year, it’s a brave film that would suggest print journalism isn’t always a force for good in American public life. But that’s what The Front Runner attempts in its dramatisation of how Senator Gary Hart’s 1987 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination imploded after revelations of an extramarital affair.

It’s a movie that is impressively crafted by director Jason Reitman. He employs Robert Altman-esque touches in his atmospheric, intricate depiction of the political and media circus around Hart, who tried to insist his private life shouldn’t be the story, but failed.

But in wanting to be also an illustrative lesson in journalism ethics by pointing to a time that is, in media years, ancient history, The Front Runner feels slightly quaint, especially considering the events that some of those who’ve actually won the White House since 1988 have survived.

As the title of the 2014 Matt Bai book on which it is based, All The Truth Is Out: The week politics went tabloid, suggests, the film posits, in its endless newsroom discussions, that the Hart scandal was a tipping point. That the US broadsheets that had looked the other way when it came to past presidents’ private indiscretions would no longer hold the line in the looming age of the 24-hour news cycle.

But that doesn’t make The Front Runner particularly interesting. Neither does Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Hart, nor the worrying wig he’s given to do it in. His restrained performance renders him a hollow centre to a swirling ensemble of family, campaign staff and reporters. There’s enough to suggest that Hart was both a gifted politician and a man of hidden shallows. It’s just not much of a character study or a particularly exciting scandal drama.

Meanwhile, Donna Rice (Sara Paxton), the woman whom Hart, some 20 years older, met on a Florida gin palace named “Monkey Business”, barely figures until Hart’s campaign team quarantines her for damage control. Had this been Rice’s story, more than what feels like an apologia for Hart, the film might have had something relevant to say in 2019. As it is, The Front Runner is more also-ran.



Video: Sony Pictures Entertainment

This article was first published in the February 16, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


Death of the gods: The woeful response to kauri dieback disease
102578 2019-02-21 00:00:00Z Planet

Death of the gods: The woeful response to kauri di…

by Bob Harvey

The closer you get to a kauri, the more you realise you are looking at one of the wonders of the planet.

Read more
Win a double pass to Everybody Knows
102573 2019-02-20 13:19:44Z Win

Win a double pass to Everybody Knows

by The Listener

Starring Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem, Everybody Knows is a gripping new thriller about the fissures and fault lines that can tear a family apart.

Read more
Fall into a beautiful abyss at this must-see dance show in Auckland
102571 2019-02-20 12:12:54Z Where to go in Auckland

Fall into a beautiful abyss at this must-see dance…

by Metro

A contemporary dance show that marries dystopian anxiety with raw energy is a must-see at the Auckland Arts Festival.

Read more
Climate change declaration 'politically charged' – Thames-Coromandel mayor
102563 2019-02-20 09:39:08Z Planet

Climate change declaration 'politically charged' –…

by Kate Gudsell

A push to get local authorities to sign up to a declaration on climate change is "politically charged and driven", the Thames-Coromandel mayor says.

Read more
What's inside Metro's March/April 2019 issue?
102558 2019-02-20 09:24:47Z Auckland Issues

What's inside Metro's March/April 2019 issue?

by Metro

Top 50 wines, rappers Church & AP, fast-talking poet Selina Tusitala Marsh and what to see at Auckland Arts Festival.

Read more
China could be using Taiwan as a testing ground for disinformation campaigns
102550 2019-02-20 00:00:00Z World

China could be using Taiwan as a testing ground fo…

by Gavin Ellis

A Taiwanese diplomat’s death in Japan has become a symbol of the consequences and dangers of disinformation.

Read more
The best way to beat food cravings? Fill up on the objects of your desire
102087 2019-02-20 00:00:00Z Nutrition

The best way to beat food cravings? Fill up on the…

by Jennifer Bowden

Research has shown that dieters’ attempts to resist eating certain foods appear to lead to cravings for those foods.

Read more
Deepfake: How disinformation fools our brains and damages democracy
102545 2019-02-20 00:00:00Z Tech

Deepfake: How disinformation fools our brains and…

by Gavin Ellis

Message manipulation using bots, algorithms and, now, AI software is making it harder to know what’s real – and threatening democracy itself.

Read more