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


Movie Review by Joan Ellis –


It can easily be said that Widows is first rate on many levels. Director Steve McQueen and actor Viola Davis create a strong core for the movie as they and their cohorts break new ground for women in many ways. The movie has become a hot topic in long, favorable press articles that credit it with exploding the usual Hollywood guidelines regarding race, gender, sex, and murder. All true with one major reservation: is this an acceptable moment to have women celebrate their new freedom with guns and killing?

The movie opens with a prolonged love scene between Harry (Liam Neeson) and Veronica (Viola Davis) that establishes their passion. Shortly after that, Harry is killed during one of his criminal projects leaving his wife Veronica vulnerable to other crooks owed money by her newly dead husband. When she learns that Harry had hidden $5,000,000 in a now unknown place, she assembles several needy widows of fellow criminals to help find that bundle for splitting among themselves. All this will unfold in Chicago, the big city with its own deeply dark side. And so we have men, women, and a backdrop all involved in theft and killing.

Add to that one more first: the unpleasant fact that the moviemakers decided that in addition to breaking new ground for women they would show all crimes and murders in prolonged and full view of the carnage as it unfolds. We are treated to lingering shots of faces and bodies carved up and awash in blood.

The genuine misfire here is the choice of proving the equality of women to men in the one grim way that has usually been the prerogative of men: violence. Women have chosen alternative paths in the past and those ways are now gaining public acceptance. Let’s hope writers will begin to focus on some of the extraordinary ways they are now making themselves felt by solving problems in ways other than traditional male violence.

All that aside, performances by Michele Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Ervio are fine and those by Viola Davis and Liam Neeson are so strong that they literally become the impact of the movie. I am not asking for old-fashioned feel good movies, but let’s hope someone will film the amazing breakout stories of the past couple of years – the MeToo movement in response to the school shootings, the rise of teenagers in fighting the violence their elders continue to ignore.

The glorification of violence as women’s path to equal strength with men is unpleasant and childish. Now that they are no longer housebound as they have been for centuries, let’s write and film stories that celebrate their new freedom to explore their skills. The relationship between Viola Davis and Liam Neeson is a good start in destroying old rules, but imagine the great story that could have followed if each of the featured women had bold ideas in their heads instead of guns in their hands.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Widows
Word Count : 500
Running Time : 2:09
Rating : R
Date : November 25, 2018