Believe it or not, there was a time in America where journalists questioned their own ethics when writing and reporting a story…about Democrats. If you are a Republican, you can damn sure look forward to journalists screaming loaded questions from halfway across the room while they wrestle the mic away from your interns just to make you look as bad as humanly possible. But back in 1987, some journalists questioned whether it was ethical to report on the extramarital affairs of Democrats running for office. Well if they thought the Gary Hart story was too hot for tv, the stories that came from the oval office just a decade later would make the Hart scandal look like a Nick Jr. morning show by comparison.
For those who never heard of Gary Hart, he was who many in the media considered to be the front-runner to be president of the United States in 1988…but even that statement deserves to be called into question. Whether Hart even stood a chance against then-Vice President George H.W. Bush is up for debate. You see, the 1980s were a really bad time for Democrats. While they will retroactively tell you that it was one of the worst times for the country, the reality shows that it was one of the most prosperous periods in American History. So much so that in 1984, then President Ronald Reagan cruised to the biggest electoral beatdown ever recorded winning every state in the union except for Minnesota (yes, there was a time not too long ago that California was a hard red state so don’t get too cocky down there Texas). In 1988, riding the Ronald Reagan wave, George H.W. Bush won the election 426-111 over Democrat Michael Dukakis so the claims the Gary Hart was on his way to the White House may have been a bit oversold.
However, that leads us to this film, The Front Runner, based on the true story of a former media darling whose dreams of sitting in the White House went down in flames due to a story about an alleged affair that led to a media scandal. In 1987, Gary Hart played by Hugh Jackman was cited as the favorite to win the Democrat nomination and challenge for the White House. But one day he is busted by members of the press hiding out at a location with a woman who is not his wife. When confronted about the allegations, Hart decides to ignore the story at his own peril until the scandal becomes too big for him to look the other way.
The Front Runner is a movie that has something to say; you just don’t know what they are saying and who they are saying it to. The most common complaint I’ve heard about this film is that it refuses to lay the blame solely on one side whether it’s the media or Hart himself. The reason this doesn’t work is that while they refuse to take a side, you’re essentially are telling a story that really isn’t that interesting. I mean the Gary Hart story isn’t even the most scandalous one about Democrats on adultery. The film even makes a note about how everyone turned a blind eye to the revolving door of women during the Kennedy and Johnson’s administrations and this story was sandwiched between the biggest sex scandal the country had seen involving the sitting president just a few years later. Add that with the fact that despite being sold as the Beto O’Rourke of the 1980s, Hart himself isn’t an interesting character and outside of the media’s love affair for him, he is shown more times than not to be completely in over his head getting into the Presidential game.
I guess the message here would be when it comes to Washington whether the press or the politicians, everyone is morally bankrupt, but even by that standard, this film feels way outdated even if it came out in the 1990s. Jackman isn’t the problem here, neither is the rest of the supporting cast, they are the only thing that makes this film watchable, but when you sell a story where everyone in question is kind of a dick, you give the audience no one to care about thus they don’t care about the film. The Front Runner tries to tell the story of the day politics and journalism changed, but if we are being in any way honest, politics and journalism were corrupted well before Gary Hart.