Anatomy of a scan­dal ex­am­ines af­fair of Hart

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - FILM ANNE JOSEPH The Front Run­ner

I(15) N JA­SON Reit­man’s (Tully, Juno, Up in the Air) lat­est film, Hugh Jack­man plays US Se­na­tor Gary Hart, whose bid for the 1988 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion seemed to be a shoo-in: that is, un­til his spec­tac­u­lar, pre­cip­i­tous fall from grace, caused by his own in­dis­cre­tions com­pounded by the re­ac­tion of the Amer­i­can me­dia.

A film about a po­lit­i­cal sex scan­dal may not be a new story but Reit­man’s fast paced drama — fo­cused on three ex­tra­or­di­nary weeks — is based on jour­nal­ist Matt Bai’s book, All the Truth Is Out with a script co-writ­ten by Bai, Reit­man and po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant, Jay Car­son. As a re­sult, the por­trayal of events — and the added archive footage of the time — lends a cer­tain au­then­tic­ity to its retelling.

At 46, Gary Hart was rel­a­tively young to run as a can­di­date. His in­tel­li­gence, charisma and ide­al­ism made him pop­u­lar with young voters. He was in­spir­ing, charm­ing and hand­some but was un­com­fort­able in re­veal­ing any­thing per­sonal about him­self, feel­ing it un­nec­es­sary for his can­di­dacy. But once the long held ru­mours about his in­fi­delity were con­firmed, this stub­born re­fusal to talk about his pri­vate life — “I don’t want to be the is­sue”— only served to feed the news frenzy that fol­lowed, even­tu­ally forc­ing Hart to ad­dress the is­sue of his af­fair in pub­lic.

Jack­man is strik­ing as Hart, man­ag­ing to project his strong po­lit­i­cal pres­ence com­bined with a sub­tle sense of dig­nity or ob­vi­ous dis­com­fort as the in­ci­dent un­folds. But Hart is also ar­ro­gant and dis­plays a re­mark­able lack of con­cern for Donna Rice (Sara Pax­ton), the woman at the cen­tre of the af­fair. Nor does he seem both­ered about how his be­hav­iour af­fects his wife, Lee, played by a dig­ni­fied Vera Farmiga.

Some of the most en­gag­ing scenes take place in in­tense, chaotic cam­paign meet­ings — led by J K Sim­mons who gives a cred­i­ble per­for­mance as Bill Dixon, Hart’s tire­less cam­paign man­ager — as well as news­rooms, where dis­cus­sions ad­dress whether re­port­ing on Hart’s af­fair is le­git­i­mate news or not. When the story even­tu­ally breaks, via a re­porter’s hap­haz­ard and un­ortho­dox meth­ods, Hart and his fam­ily are be­sieged.

Sur­pris­ingly, per­haps, there are no he­roes or vil­lains: Reit­man does not ap­por­tion blame on any one in­di­vid­ual or group. Un­for­tu­nately, how­ever, in­ad­e­quate at­ten­tion is given to Rice and apart from the pal­pa­ble flicker of dis­ap­point­ment shown on the face of one of his em­ploy­ees (Molly Ephraim), as she witnesses Hart’s dis­grace dur­ing his fi­nal press con­fer­ence, there is lit­tle ex­am­i­na­tion of how his ac­tions af­fected his staff team, in par­tic­u­lar his hope­ful younger mem­bers, for whom he rep­re­sented the fu­ture.

It is sober­ing that a film about a dimly re­called po­lit­i­cal event feels so much like a dif­fer­ent era. That an ex­tra-mar­i­tal af­fair should be so de­ci­sively de­rail­ing of a po­lit­i­cal ca­reer and the pre­sen­ta­tion of the me­dia’s sig­nif­i­cant re­ac­tion to it, el­e­vate the film from a run of the mill biopic to some­thing more sub­stan­tial.

The Front Run­ner is re­leased in UK cin­e­mas on Jan­uary 11


Hugh Jack­man as Gary Hart

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