The Front Runner
For time out of mind, shooting the messenger was a tried and true response to unfavourable news for figures in the public eye. But with unsubstantiated gossip and biased comment now rampant throughout social media, resulting in private lives being chewed up and spat out like watermelon pips, it’s a defence that doesn’t work any more (even the revolting man/baby president’s shield of ‘fake news’ is beginning to crack). Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) was the front runner in the race to the White House in 1987. Emerging from the political dross as a charismatic leader in the Kennedy mould, the world was at his feet – until a sexual indiscretion skittled his ambition. And Hart’s reaction to being exposed by the Miam Herald is the crux of the story. He asserts that the press has no right to intrude into his personal activities (to one editor, it’s front-page fodder, ‘like when that alligator ate the kid’), so Hart attempts to present himself as the victim of gutter journalism. What you have to decide is whose side you are on. Hart’s sincere, if blinkered, conviction is that the newspaper’s scandalous revelation – picked up by the Washington Post, the New York Times, television etc – should have nothing to do with the platform that he hopes will take him to the Oval Office. By contrast, his old-school morality does not embrace fidelity in marriage. As the movie develops, the emotional price paid by the women in Hart’s imbroglio is made clear, to his detriment. His wife (Vera Farmiga) and ‘the girl’ (Sara Paxton), who only wanted to be part of his campaign, are collateral damage in the whirlwind. Canadian director Jason Reitman has a sharp eye for the individual who is caught up in events unforeseen, events for which their everyday understanding of the world is suddenly challenged (Juno, Tully, Up In The Air – an impressive CV, yes?), and with Jackman terrific in a rare serious role, he has linked the recent past with the vulgar contemporary.