The Front Runner
14th October 2018 9.00pm at Embankment Garden Cinema
15th October 2018 11.45am at Embankment Garden Cinema
Gary Hart was the Front Runner, certainly for the Democratic nomination and probably the Presidency itself. That was until reporters from the Miami Herald spotted a young woman, who was not his wife, emerging from his Washington town house. The subsequent scandal changed his life, and arguably changed American politics and journalism forever. This film tells that story.
“I care about this process!” Hart booms, furious at his staff imploring him to abandon his commitment to a policy-driven campaign and address the allegations openly and personally. It’s clear that this concern is shared by the writing team too, made up of director Jason Reitman, House of Cards producer Jay Carson and Matt Bai (a former journalist who wrote the book the movie is based on). This is a film driven by process, not people.
Without at least doubling its two-hour running time it simply wouldn’t be possible to cover in depth the dizzying array of characters that make up the court of a modern-day would-be ruler. This coterie encompasses family and friends, political advisors as well as broadcast and print media.
But The Front Runner does try. It’s a brave effort to depict the swirl of humanity that accompanied a campaign in 1988, and that has only increased exponentially since. The feature moves quickly, with politicos and hacks delivering earthier wise-cracks, less polished or rhythmic than those in House of Cards or The West Wing. Disorientating panning shots and claustrophobic long-takes capture a world of intense scrutiny and pressure most of us can only imagine. It’s an enjoyable ride and a brave move but isn’t without problems.
As a result of this Herculean scope, though, much of the human drama is only superficially explored. This leaves a hole in the dramatic and moral centre of the movie as it fails to make a judgement on Hart, preferring to present both sides of a debate. The hurt he causes to the women around him is hinted at rather than studied. Those women include his wife Lee (brilliantly and all too briefly portrayed by Vera Farmiga), the woman at the centre of the scandal, Donna Rice (Sarah Paxton), his devoted Press Secretary Ginny Terzano (Jenna Kanell) and daughter Andrea (Kaitlyn Dever). In its whirlwind tour, the film validates Hart’s arguments in a way that can at times be hard to swallow.
The Front Runner is fast and furious, but like a senator from the West dreaming of becoming the first ever Democratic President of the United States, it has huge expanses to cross and is undermined by its own moral failings.
The Front Runner is released nationwide on 25th January 2019.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for The Front Runner here: