43rd Toronto International Film Festival Coverage: Day Eight

Thursday, September 13th, 2018 by Ian Evans

The Front Runner

The Front Runner courtesy of TIFF.

It was election day for me…well at least in the cinemas.

Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9, the day after the 2016 election, looks at the forces and events that led up to the election of a boorish reality host and real estate developer to the presidency of the United States. Moore shows that many pundits, even on the right, laughed when Trump announced his run for office. Moore, on the other hand, had read the tea leaves in the American Rust Belt and knew a Trump win was not only possible but probable. Moore doesn’t let the Left off the hook either. He shows how inactivity during the Flint water crisis and convention shenanigans shutting down the voices of Bernie Sanders supporters led to many Democrats feeling abandoned or disenfranchised, staying home on election day. The concept of voter apathy and “that can’t happen here” is juxtaposed against headlines from newspapers showing the same thoughts after the rise of the Nazis in Germany.

My next screening took me back to the simpler times of the 1980’s, when an alleged affair could actually end someone’s political ambitions. The Front Runner, from director Jason Reitman, stars Hugh Jackman as Gary Hart, whose bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 was ended three weeks after it began when the press revealed a young woman had stayed the night at Hart’s D.C. townhouse. Hart’s family and Rice are hounded by the press and Hart eventually withdraws in a famous speech where he criticizes the media’s focus on the person and not the issues saying, “We all better do something to make this system work or we’re all going to be soon rephrasing Jefferson to say: I tremble for my country when I think we may, in fact, get the kind of leaders we deserve.”

Reitman touches upon the issue of the tabloid aspects of political journalism but doesn’t dive too deeply, with journalists discussing the good ol’ days when they’d turn a blind eye to a politician’s indiscretions. Throughout the film it feels like Reitman is coming down on the side of the powerful men versus the press that cover them, but he’s careful enough to not show his cards too much in the #MeToo era. Jackman’s Hart remains an enigma. Is he correct in saying that the press has no right to look into the lives of those running for high office or is he an arrogant, entitled man who believes that powerful men have the right to run around as long as it doesn’t publicly hurt the family? J.K. Simmonds, Alfred Molina, Ari Graynor and Kevin Pollak get to fire off sharp Sorkin-esque lines about press and politics, but those lines, like the newspapers, will be lining birdcages tomorrow. The only person in the film who gets some real depth is Vera Farmiga, who portrays Lee Hart as a woman who sees Hart blaming the press for his own indiscretions and tells him, “You carry it so I don’t have to.” Her eyes show that the hurt he’s caused in their marriage before is amplified now that it’s public.

Ultimately, The Front Runner is suited for political junkies who want to read or watch every angle of a story, but wider audiences will probably give this one a pass.