The Front Runner

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
The Front Runner Movie Poster Image
Thought-provoking, well-acted drama about politics, media.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 113 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Messages aren't overt, but movie makes viewers think about various issues related to politics, media, marriage, and private vs. public sphere.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Hart cares about the American people and has people around him who care about him, but he makes ill-advised personal choices. Lee is a devoted wife who demands/commands respect. Various journalists struggle with their jobs, responsibilities, personal feelings about Hart and his actions. Hart's team tries to help him move forward with campaign, but they also feel betrayed.

Violence

Arguments/yelling.

Sex

Donna Rice and Gary Hart walk next to each other, with his hand on her back guiding her forward. Gary and Lee hug for photos. Photos briefly glimpsed of Gary and an unidentified woman. References to adultery and sexual impropriety.

Language

Frequent use of words including "f--ked," "f--king," "f--k," "s--t," "bulls--t," "jack s--t," "goddamn," etc.

Consumerism

Atari, Panasonic, Sprite, Pringles, Honda Accord, Jeep Renegade, Cadillac, Greyhound bus, Rolling Rock, Wrigley's gum.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults occasionally smoke cigarettes and drink at parties/get-togethers.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Front Runner is writer-director Jason Reitman's fact-based drama about the demise of presidential hopeful Gary Hart's 1987 campaign after news breaks about his possible affair with a woman named Donna Rice. Starring Hugh Jackman as the charming but intensely private Hart, the film follows various perspectives on the scandal: Hart's, his wife's, his campaign team and advisers', that of the journalists who covered (or chose not to cover) the story, and Rice's. There's quite a bit of strong language in the film ("f--k," "s--t," "bulls--t," etc.), references to adultery and sexual impropriety, and some smoking and drinking, but the movie is appropriate for older teens interested in a fascinating case study in presidential politics. And parents and teens will have a lot to discuss afterward, from how other politicians have dealt with scandal to how the media treated Donna Rice to how the president's private life can become politicized.

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What's the story?

THE FRONT RUNNER tells the true story of how former Colorado senator Gary Hart -- the titular front runner in the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination to run against then-vice president George H.W. Bush -- lost all campaign momentum after news broke about his alleged affair. A private but charismatic candidate, Hart (Hugh Jackman), along with his staff, is poised to capitalize on his double-digit polling advantage over fellow Democratic candidates and Bush himself, excited to become the first Democrat from out West to be on the presidential ticket. But then, in May 1987, newspaper reporters from the Miami Herald follow an anonymous tip that leads them to break a story about Hart's supposed affair with a young woman named Donna Rice (Sara Paxton), whom he met at a yacht party.

Is it any good?

This fact-based drama is a well-acted, thorough examination of a moment in time when a politician's personal life cost him a fighting chance at the presidency. Reitman uses a Robert Altman-esque approach: no score, multiple overlapping conversations, lots of dialogue and details. The Front Runner follows not only Hart but also his staff (J.K. Simmons as Bill Dixon and Molly Ephraim as Irene Kelly are particularly outstanding) and political reporters (Mamoudou Athie is effective as a conflicted young Washington Post reporter, and Steven Zissis is entertaining as the original Miami Herald writer who broke the story). Then there's Vera Farmiga, who plays Lee Hart, from whom Gary had been temporarily estranged but then reconciled with. As always, Farmiga is amazing at expressing much with little dialogue.

Reitman and co-writers Matt Bai and Jay Carson don't provide any definitive answers about what Hart and Rice did or didn't do. The story doesn't force viewers to sympathize with Hart or to lament the fact that he didn't get the chance to be president. They do, however, make it clear that Rice was left without a safety net after the scandal went public. But Hart remains an enigma who refuses to entertain personal questions because he believes the public isn't entitled to anything but his service. Jackman, who's usually so outgoing and emotional in films, has to rein in his performance here, and it's fascinating -- if frustrating -- for viewers. This is no message movie -- although a few one-liners might remind folks of the current state of politics -- but it will make people think and ponder the relationship between the media, the public, and the people we elect.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Front Runner looks at the way the media treats political candidates. Do you think the public has a right to know about candidates' private lives? Why or why not?

  • What do you think of the way the film explores various perspectives on the scandal? Which angle is the most interesting to you: the journalists', the Hart campaign's, the Hart family's, Donna's, or Gary's?

  • Do you consider the movie a commentary on politics today? Could Hart have won the nomination in the current political climate? Why or why not?

  • Are any of the characters role models? Which characters do you find the easiest to relate to or empathize with?

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