The Front Runner

The Front Runner

The Front Runner is a movie for people who are captivated by presidential politics. For those who aren’t, this is a barrel of confusion that requires patience and imagination. Even if you followed Gary Hart’s presidential campaign from the early ‘80s forward, it is likely that confusion will engulf you here. A problem common to non-fiction films always looms when the real-life characters are more recognizable than the actors who portray them. You are not likely to recognize Alfred Molina as Ben Bradlee or Spence Garrett as Bob Woodward.

Gary Hart won presidential primaries west of the Mississippi and by 1988 he was the front runner for the Democratic nomination. Hugh Jackman does a fine job of presenting Hart as the articulate, smart candidate he was – until news broke of his affair with Donna Rice (Sara Paxton). Though Hart tried to ignore the press coverage of the affair by delivering articulate speeches about his politics, his candidacy was consumed by the constant coverage of his private life. Though the public examination of men and their affairs in our present time makes it seem odd that this revelation would cause the explosion that engulfed Hart, remember that this happened thirty-four years ago.

The movie’s best acting is delivered by Vera Farmiga as she plays Lee Hart being thrown from private life into public spectacle as the betrayed wife. Hugh Jackman is strong as candidate Hart who insists his sexual life is not fair fodder for the campaign, but television ensures that there is no escape from submersion in the ugly world of public scandal. Husband and wife are both reduced to swimming through the sea of superficiality created by the press. Much of the dialogue here is lost in the chaos of camera shutters, reporters shouting each other down, and ugly personal invasions. Do all candidates for public office surrender their rights to privacy?

What would have happened if Hart had won and followed through with his plans to invite Gorbachev to the inauguration and to work toward peace with the Soviets? Instead, this movie submerges us in junk food, junk conversation, and the confusion of a sea of unidentified faces. People who soaked up the political details of that time may love this movie. Those who didn’t are not likely to be able to navigate this confusing political record.

Hart’s insistence that his affair is nobody’s business – “They will not earn the dignity of my response” – was already ludicrous for a presidential candidate in 1988 when television carried the private lives of all candidates into American homes. His articulate arguments were ignored entirely by a public fascinated with scandal. No one cared after that how he felt about anything other than the one subject he refused to discuss.

Did the Harts’ marriage become a political casualty along with his presidential ambitions? An announcement about that at movie’s end gives us the answer and sends us out with a whole new set of questions.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : The Front Runner
Word Count : 499
Running Time : 1:53
Rating : R
Date : December 9, 2018

Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes

How I wish Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes could be seen by everyone in America. Right-wing thinkers will be at a loss to condemn it as partisan because it is composed of live footage of the participants themselves. Left-wing thinkers will be stunned at how little they themselves actually knew.This is a portrait of the man who rose from designing Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign to creating Fox News as a national power. It is the tale of a man hungry for personal power who achieved it on a level rarely seen in a democracy.

In 1996, Rupert Murdoch and his Fox News hired Roger Ailes who then spent years creating and covering scandals in the lives of public figures as Fox News became enormously powerful. On screen we watch Ailes tell the women reporters how to dress, what to say, what stories to cover. We watch him mold presidents as he creates the now strongest of all behind the scenes manipulators: The Media Advisor. After becoming the strongest example of his own invention, he filled that role himself until the day he died.

As the first Media Advisor in history, he became both a kingmaker and a puppeteer. The people who hired him, needed him. He made so many enemies that he had his office lined in bullet proof glass. He grew to be a nasty kingmaker so powerful that he engineered Republican political campaigns from George H.W. Bush forward.

When we look at what this movie triggers about the secret manipulations of presidential elections, several things are clear. First, Roger Ailes built Fox’s staggering power with the blessing of founder Rupert Murdoch. Second, Fox now stands supreme in its power over presidential elections. Third, in this month of November 2018, American President Donald Trump announced aloud for all to hear that what our country needs is one national television program that would report “the truth.” We can only ask, “Whose truth?”

Given the fact that in this film Trump is already in conversations with the Murdoch family, point three is nothing less than terrifying. This is a man who saw clearly the record of the Ailes/Murdoch alliance and wants to be next in line for their help. This documentary stops short, as it should, of predicting what would happen if a Trump/Fox alliance dominated the distribution of the national news.

Imagine, if you can, our country dependent on one source of information. A president who believes in rule by one man could wrap his beliefs and intentions in a single government news outlet for distribution to the public. Does that sound familiar? Sadly, much of our population is too young even to know that Hitler did exactly that in the 1930s. Is it too much to hope that of Americans of all ages will see this documentary that clarifies the dangerous roots planted by Roger Ailes? Now that he is dead, will Fox News reconsider their manipulation?

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes
Word Count : 498
Running Time : 1:47
Rating : R
Date : December 2, 2018


This review was posted on December 2, 2018, in Documentary.