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The Front Runner may chronicle the public downfall of a politician — and even engage with the current political climate — but the cast and filmmakers made it clear at the New York premiere Tuesday that there’s no partisan takeaway, let alone any absolute message.
Centering on the three weeks in spring 1987 that saw the former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart become the focus of a tabloid scandal, causing him to quickly go from being the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination to having to end his campaign, Hugh Jackman, who plays Hart, told The Hollywood Reporter that the film “doesn’t tell you what to think, what the answers should be or preach to you in any way,” but instead sparks a conversation.
For many involved with The Front Runner, this is not only refreshing, but necessary.
“This is the type of film and storytelling that I most crave,” Ari Graynor, who plays real-life political journalist Ann Devroy, told THR. “We’re living in an unbelievably black-and-white, divisive time where there’s very little room for nuance and gray and holistic understanding of the situation. I think that’s where we’re getting in trouble. There has to be a greater sense of understanding. It’s admirable that this movie doesn’t tell you what to think; it doesn’t tell you what’s right or wrong, but instead offers a pragmatic vision of a moment that happens and allows you to leave and ask yourself questions.”
That’s not to say The Front Runner won’t remind viewers of the current state of politics. “I hope people wonder how the hell we got to where we are right now,” Jackman said. “It’s possibly an event in history that might make you think about things today in a different way.”
As director Jason Reitman put it, “The Gary Hart scandal was a moment in which tabloid journalism drove into the lane of political journalism. It’s a moment where we asked, ‘What is public life? What is private life?’ And I can’t imagine a time more than 2018 in which we’re talking about those things more.”
There’s no clearer indication of The Front Runner’s timeliness than a report from The Atlantic earlier this month that says GOP operative Lee Atwater confessed on his deathbed to setting up Hart.
However, theories like those weren’t a factor while creating the film, writers Matt Bai and Jay Carson said. Bai, who wrote the book on which The Front Runner is based, told THR that a set-up is “plausible,” but even so, it wouldn’t be responsible for everything that happened afterward.
“There were a lot of individual decisions made,” Bai told THR. “We’re looking at that moment and all the forces that came together and changed in that moment. Regardless of what caused that to be set in motion, the situations people were facing and the decisions they made that no one had to make before them are really at the heart of this film and this story.”
The filmmakers said they did their best to tell the story from all of these different people’s perspectives, rather than taking one particular side.
“We’ve spent a long time working in this business,” said Carson, a longtime Democratic political adviser. “We never met any one-dimensional humans in the world of politics. Everyone’s three-dimensional, and we tried to portray our characters that way. We didn’t turn anyone into the good guy or the bad guy. As a result of that, we think that there are a lot of human beings on the screen. And we hope that people come in and see a little bit of themselves in this character, and a little bit of themselves in that character and so on.”
Helen Estabrook, a producer on the film, said she’s particularly proud that there’s “a lot of different points of view from women that you haven’t necessarily gotten to hear or see.”
One of those women is Donna Rice, who Hart allegedly had an affair with, played by Sara Paxton.
“She was a highly intelligent, very educated woman with agency,” Paxton said of Rice after doing research for the role. “And none of that was ever talked about. I wanted to capture the empathy of this woman in this situation and give her this voice that she didn’t have 30 years ago.”
The Front Runner hits theaters on Nov. 6, also known as Election Day.
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