Just months after he gave us an unflinching portrayal of motherhood in Tully, director Jason Reitman is back with his second movie of the year. And this time he, along with screenwriters Matt Bai and Jay Carson, has his sights on the tricky relationship between politics and the press.
The Front Runner stars Hugh Jackman as Gary Hart, a candidate in the 1988 Democratic primaries who came under fire over a sex scandal. The film looks to use historical events to tell a contemporary story about the responsibilities of the press, and their ever-evolving relationship with politics. And if that sounds familiar at all, well The Post came out less than a year ago.
Here’s the first look at the upcoming movie, which comes out November 21st:
We start the trailer with a series of voiceovers that set the stage, telling us just why Hart is the ideal candidate. We then see Jackman for the first time, shooting an ad for his campaign. “My name’s Gary Hart, and I’m running for president,” he says before a title card tells us what year we’re in.
Hart is then seen smiling and shaking hands at a campaign event before we meet J.K. Simmons‘ Bill Dixon. He addresses the small gathering, telling them “I want you to think about the opportunity that we have right here, right now.”
We hear about Hart’s “gift” for talking politics, as we see him and his wife Lee (Vera Farmiga) preparing for an idyllic photoshoot. But as we keep cutting back to this setting, Gary looks increasingly uncomfortable, as highlighted by Dixon’s line– “all anybody wants is for him to take a stupid photo.” And Hart’s difficulty with his public persona may come back to haunt him.
Hart talks about holding “ourselves to that highest standard,” right before things take a turn. Photos emerge of Hart with another woman, and he’s soon confronted by journalists. “We wanna ask you some questions about the woman in your townhouse,” one asks, a question Hart is quick to shrug off. However, he quickly realizes the seriousness of the situation.
As Gary goes on with his campaign, Lee is forced to deal with the fallout– “the one thing I asked was that you don’t embarrass me,” she says defiantly. We see numerous instances of Gary being harassed by reporters, cameras flashing all over the place. “You can’t hide from this,” Dixon tells him.
As we flip over to the press side, we get discussions of the duties and responsibilities of the media. “Just because some other paper used gossip as front page news, that doesn’t mean we have to,” a young reporter says in confrontation. The reality, however, is that the story is out there by this point and cannot be avoided.
Hart’s harassment gets increasingly more intense. We get brief flashes of him hiding from cameras, while the big awards show clip plays out. “I care about the sanctity of the process,” barks Jackman, enforcing the idea that his campaign is about so much more than just “rumors” and “sleaze”. The trailer ends with a terrific little scene of Hart on the phone to his wife. The lighting is dark and moody, setting up the final line: “There’s gonna be a story tomorrow about me.”
While Reitman is coming off the back of the very strong Tully and this cast is terrific, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that a lot of this ground has been covered in recent movies like Spotlight and The Post. Speeches about integrity in journalism and the responsibility of the press have, after all, been easy to come by in recent awards seasons. And while the fact that this movie will be looking at the other side of that conflict, where the press may be in the wrong, is something, it’s perhaps not quite enough to convince me that this story wouldn’t be better served as a documentary.
Despite this, the performances from Jackman and Simmons look fantastic, and Reitman’s a strong enough director to hopefully make this work. And the fact that the current US president is embroiled in numerous scandals means this movie couldn’t be more timely. The Front Runner looks to be aiming for a similar crowd to a film like Green Book, in being a biopic with solid performances about an important piece of history. And while that film’s trailer displays more charm and energy than this one, here’s hoping this all works out.