At its “Hart,” Front Runner is a story of the naive. If you think you know the story of the demise of Gary Hart, you probably don’t. Hart is so naive that he thinks his affairs are none of the public’s business. Donna Rice, a Phi Beta Kappa, is naive enough to think her parents will never find out. And, after ignoring the affairs of Kennedy and Johnson, the media naively argues their role in this “new” world of sex and politics. This is a movie for political junkies, not the Oscar contender some profess. I give this movie 3.5 Gavels and it receives a 57% Rotten Tomatoes rating.
In 1984, Gary Hart comes out of nowhere to become a major Democratic contender. That makes him the front runner in 1988. Except, Senator Hart is more interested in policy than politics. It might be seen as an omen to the rest of the world that Hart lives on Troublesome Gulch Road in Colorado. Or, that he boats with females to Bimini on the Monkey Business. But, to Hart, it is no one’s business but his. Private lives should remain private. The world changes during that three weeks.
Hugh Jackman portrays Gary Hart as a tortured soul, absolutely unable to understand that a train just ran over him. Vera Farmiga, as his wife, tells their daughter that she made many “allowances” for her husband over their 30 years together. J.K. Simmons is, by far, the best actor in the movie as Hart’s campaign manager. One can’t help but sympathize with Donna Rice as played by Sara Paxton. Alfred Molina‘s part as Ben Bradlee is much too short.
Much of the first part of this movie tries to emulate Aaron Sorkin-like dialogue. That fails. Once the director gets past the rapid fire, talk-over-one-another discourse, the story moves along much better. It is fascinating to watch Hart and his staff battle with the “tabloid” reporting of the press. Of course, all this seems such an innocent time given the later Clinton and Trump affairs. At times, it seems voyeuristic to watch Gary Hart dig his own grave. Could he really be that out of touch with reality? Remember, he dared the press to follow him. Bottom line–Gary Hart was a brief flash in American politics; he burned bright, but burned out quickly. This movie fits the same mold.