Thursday, November 15, 2018

Jason Reitman's absorbing, chastening walk down our political/journalistic memory lane, THE FRONT RUNNER, wrestles with vital ideas

I swear you could almost hear the audience at Tuesday evening's preview screening thinking about, piecing together and struggling to fully comprehend the many moral conundrums -- personal, political, journalistic -- they were faced with while viewing THE FRONT RUNNER, the new film co-written and directed by Jason Reitman (shown below).

Based on the book, All the Truth Is Out, by Matt Bai (who co-wrote the screenplay, along with Jay Carson), the movie details the 1988 campaign of Colorado Senator Gary Hart to gain the Democratic nomination for the upcoming Presidential election. Hart was indeed the "front runner" in the campaign, having lost the previous 1984 nomination to Walter Mondale, who then lost the election.

As shown us in the film, Hart appears to have been the most intelligent and wisest Democratic hopeful since Adlai Stevenson, with perhaps even better organizational and "realpolitik" skills -- with one major, if usual, flaw for high-level politicians: an inability to keep his dick from wandering in younger pastures.

He also failed to understand that journalistic mores, just as all other customs/conventions, were evolving over time. (Or, depending on your viewpoint, devolving.) As played by that fine and versatile actor, Hugh Jackman (above and below), Hart proves the focal point of the movie but not -- and this is very much to the film's great credit -- its hero. Hart is simply a little too flawed for that.

What TrustMovies remembers best (he was 47 years old at the time) about the scandal that erupted over Hart's extra-marital dalliance was how, when asked about his private life, the candidate actually taunted a member of the press to investigate him, so certain was he of somehow being protected from having his private life exposed. After all, many Presidents before him (and he probably would have been elected) had been granted this privilege. This time, however, the privilege was withheld, and the result is now history.

The way in which Reitman's movie explores all this is to give us everyone's viewpoint -- Hart's, his staffers, his family, that of the press, and even that of the woman with whom he cavorted, Donna Rice (played beautifully and tellingly by Sara Paxton, below) -- and it gives these as fully and honestly as seems possible in the space of 113 minutes. You may find yourself almost constantly shifting sides, at least a bit, which is a rare reaction to have in most American films.

Consequently, issues of personal privacy are weighed against political necessities. Is the duty of the press to inform readers or titillate them? How much of what we are seeing harks back to white, male power and privilege? All of this consistently bounces around, as Reitman, Bai and Carson, along with film editor Stefan Grube, weave it all together so well that you won't have time to take an extra breath. And listen well because there is always something intelligent and pertinent being tackled here.

Most especially, you will not be able to help comparing then with now. Hart felt that the American people would never stand for a politician's private life being put on this kind of display. Hell, now we can't seem to live without it. The citizenry has devolved every bit as much as press, politics, and all else.

In the film's fine supporting cast are luminaries like J.K. Simmons (above) as Hart's chief of staff; Vera Farmiga (below, right) as his wife, the personal moral center of the film; Alfred Molina (four photos up) as Washington Post editor; and especially Ms Paxton as the put-upon Ms Rice.

The scenes featuring Farmiga and Paxton are so rich and well-drawn that, without ever seeming to unduly try, they turn the film into absolute and full-bodied feminism. But, again, The Front Runner takes no sides. It simply shows. And it does this so damned well it ought to be a front runner for the Best Picture Oscar.

From Sony/Columbia Pictures, the movie opened on the coasts last week and moves further throughout the nation on Friday, November 16. Click here to locate the theater(s) nearest you.

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