Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Front Runner (The Movie)

Nowadays it is always election time in America. Election time increasingly serves as a substitute for governing, which the media now no longer ever seems to have time for or much serious interest in. So ,as soon as the 2018 midterm recounts finally end, the pundits are obviously ready to start speculating about 2020. And, in the absence of a contemporary election to fixate on, this new movie can satiate some of our electoral addiction with a retrospective on an important election from 30 years ago. Based on Matt Bai’s 2014 book All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid, the film The Front Runner chronicles the story of Senator Gary Hart, his campaign for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, and his campaign’s quick collapse when news reports revealed an apparent extramarital affair

It is the story of how Hart was forced to drop out of the race, thus presumably paving the way for accession of the Bush dynasty. It is simultaneously the story of how political journalism turned into tabloid journalism, a transformation from which it has never really recovered and which has had a permanent and predictably harmful impact on American politics ever since.

I can remember Hart's candidacy, his generationally themed campaign of "ideas." I remember I thought him arrogant at the time, and one thing that Hugh Jackman's superb performance conveys is the candidate's arrogance, as well as his absurdly entitled expectation of privacy.

Hardly anyone comes across well in this retelling of the story - certainly not Senator Hart himself, nor his opponents in the media. The destructively adversarial relationship that now characterizes our politics between self-absorbed candidates and a comparably arrogant and self-righteous news media is well portrayed. In the film, there are still hints of reservations - on all sides - about what American politics has become.  That now is gone, along with the telephone booths, wall cord phones, and typewriters that so charmingly date the movie.

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