The Front Runner (2018)

The story of Gary Hart’s fall from grace. A highly electable candidate in the mould of a Kennedy or even Andrew Jackson, Hart was all set to become the Democratic nominee for the 1988 Presidential election, and it seemed like there would be no stopping him, until this happened. A political ‘sting’ job that left his campaign in tatters and sent his political career into oblivion.

This is an able if fairly standard retelling of the story. It doesn’t get into the looming question of just how the affair might have been arranged. Whether Hugh Jackman has the acting chops to pull of such a heavyweight role is also questionable. But the movie is definitely worth a watch if a little light.

It spends most of the first half on the good-natured bonhomie among the young, idealistic volunteers working for Hart and the teams of journalists at the Miami Herald (including a rare turn from Bill Burr) and Washington Post and on fun period details rather than on the political ‘meat’ of the story. Later it gets more serious and the second half is dedicated to a somewhat morbid and winsome critique of the boundaries of political and media discourse in ’88. It makes some great points about the changing dynamics of the press from the sixties to the late 80s: what started to be reported then that previously hadn’t been reported and politicians had just got away with, and to what extent elections were already becoming ‘trials by media’.

In the end though the movie is mainly of interest because of its historical significance – the old honey trap was sprung and a man who is presented here as an otherwise quality leader was permanently lost to public service.

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