Jason Reitman works with his largest cast yet in what may be his most ambitious project to date. I think he pulls it off.
Hugh Jackman gives an award-worthy performance as politician Gary Hart. He is pursuing the Democratic presidential nomination. However, he refuses to talk about his personal life and this will partly lead to his downfall. Jackman dials down his Greatest Showman charm to play the more stoic Hart.
J.K. Simmons is a potential Best Supporting actor nominee as campaign manager Bill Dixon . He has some great dialogue and a few tense arguments with Jackman’s Hart. He is the character who perhaps both admires and understands Hart the most and yet is irritated by him the most as well. Vera Farmiga is a potential Best Actress nominee for her role as Hart's wife. Chris Coy stands out as part of Hart's PR team and could also warrant a Best Supporting Actor nom.
The movie follows Hart from just before he announces his candidacy. It sets up the tension between Hart who only wants to talk about politics and is laser-focused on his goal of winning the presidency and the journalists and the public who want things Hart sees as superficial: hours-long photo shoots for posed family photos, stories about his family, personal details to get to know him better.
The real trouble begins when Hart is no longer just acting like a man with something to hide, but actually has a secret the press gets hold of.
The movie shows the exact moment in history when major newspapers began acting like tabloids, when their reporters began hiding in bushes and reporting on politicians' sex lives. It posits that without media coverage of the Donna Rice scandal forcing Gary Hart to withdraw his nomination, he might have won not only the democratic nomination but the presidency itself, changing the course of history.
We are deprived of any scenes of dialogue between Gary Hart and Donna Rice, putting us in the same place as the American public, relying on the press to be our eyes and ears as far as the affair. It’s an interesting artistic choice but perhaps a poor one. Both characters might have been made more appealing and relatable with some insight into the affair. For a movie which strives to give voice to several points of view, including the press and Hart’s wife, the film is doggedly faithful here in sticking to Hart’s point of view alone and insisting on his privacy.
Another misstep where the film chooses only to focus on Hart is the ending. It is typical for most biopics to have a postscript that updates you on what happened to most of the major characters in the film. The Frontrunner gives you one brief sentence about Hart that sort of thumbs its nose at the media. The film has nothing to say about any of the people on Hart’s campaign and what became of them, what happened to Donna Rice in the aftermath (which at least one character in the movie is gravely concerned with and thus the audience becomes concerned with too) and where she is today, what happened to any of the reporters and whether any of them have any pride or regret,, or even the fact that the democratic party went on to lose the election.
Despite its faults, this is one of the strongest dramas of the year. It raises questions that are worthy of consideration. What is the media's responsibility? What do journalists and politicians both owe the public? Where do you draw the line? What part of a public figure's life deserves to be private? Can a morally tainted person still be a fit leader? To its credit, the movie offers no easy answers. Thirty years later, we are still wrestling with these questions as a nation. This is one of the movies from this season that is probably going to stay with me for a long time.
Pairs well with: the Robert Redford movie Truth (2015)
Other movies about journalism and politics worth checking out: All the President's Men, Network