“The Front Runner” by Jason Reitman is a film based on the story of Gary Hart (played by Hugh Jackman) and his rise and subsequent fall during his short 1988 campaign for president. Despite there being only 5 people in the theater on the day after Thanksgiving, it was definitely a worthwhile film to see.
It was striking to see a presidential candidate who is more of a policy wonk than a personality. He was more of an intellectual than a politician. His consistent struggle through the noise while trying to get his vision for a new democratic party over, was compelling.
The noise was around his being accused by the Miami Herald of an extramarital affair with Donna Rice. It was the beginning of what is now so incredibly usual. Scandal getting in the way of what is actually important: the country. This was the time the scales were tipped to journalists investigating a politician’s private life – for the first time.
A problem with the movie is that there wasn’t enough time to get to know Gary Hart. According to an interview he gave with CBS on November, 25th he saw the economics of the country moving from Detroit to Silicon Valley, worry about a war in the Persian Gulf, and the need reduce our dependence on oil. Having more of his visionary ideas as a part of the character would have upped the ante significantly. Vera Farmiga played his wife, Lee. The film heavily emphasized the importance of privacy and Farmiga connected very well to a deep isolation that Lee felt being married to Hart.
Ever since this scandal, we have seen one after the other in rolling sequence and the media making private lives just as important as public policy. Considering that neither Rice nor Hart ever said that there was an affair, it calls for reflection around what is important. Does a presidential candidate having an affair mean that he cannot run the country? Where is the line between two consenting adults and abuse of power drawn? Truth is important but how high on the media agenda should these personal stories be especially if the proof is flimsy? These are some of the questions addressed in this film. Sadly, we will never know what would have been if all this had gone the other way.