Review – Wolverine For President! (“The Front Runner”)


Gary Hart. Remember him? No? Well, way back in 1988, he was the Democrat’s favored POTUS nomination, until allegations of an extramarital affair with some gal named Donna Rice derailed him. Hmmm.. a politician having an affair with another woman? Gee, why does that sound familiar? Anyway, here’s that true story.

All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid by Matt Bai, we start with Senator Gary Hart’s (Hugh Jackman) failed attempt at getting near the Presi-dential nomination in 1984, but in 1988, he catapults ahead in the polls to be the front runner for the Democrats. Hart is charismatic, handsome, eloquent, smart, and is not only a staunch believer of American values, but privacy too. Okay, maybe I should say he’s really obsessed with privacy – mainly HIS privacy. His loving wife, Lee (Vera Far-miga) stands by her husband of 30 years, as he is gone most of the time on the road doing his campaigning thing.

Flanked by a staff of Hart believers and true supporters stands no-nonsense Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons), as his campaign manager. There’s also whip-smart Irene Kelly (Molly Ephraim), writer Doug Wilson (Josh Brener), and many others that do everything they can to get votes for their candidate. But after a weeks worth of grueling ‘pressing the flesh’ and speeches, Hart is worn out and needs a little R&R. So, where does he go? Why aboard a luxury party boat called Monkey Business filled with booze and chicks. . .and meets one particular chick named Donna Rice (Sara Paxton).

By week two, an anonymous tip comes into the Miami Herald newspaper that the decent and upstanding senator is having an affair. Jumping at the chance for a juicy story, two reporters stake-out Hart’s townhome and see a woman coming and going from his place! Uh-oh! Next thing you know, the story is all over the wire service, while the good senator repeatedly refuses to talk about it. That is, until the media circus hits town. Hart, a mas-ter orator, successfully deflects the story as sheer nonsense and poor journalism, but after even MORE rumors and damaging photos surface over at the Washington Post newspaper, the man is toast.

If you were around in the 80’s (like I was), you remember the cacophony of allegations hurled at Gary Hart from every side; TV, newspaper, magazine, and if there was an inter-net back then, it would have gone viral, to say the least. Funny thing, the stuff that Hart did back then wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow today. A politician having an affair? Pffft. Big deal. As with all bio-pic’s, the real story is always so much more fascinating than the movie version, but this screenplay by author Matt Bai, director Jason Reitman, and political strategist Jay Carson is straight-forward, strangely entertaining, and pulls no punches.

Alot of credit has to go to Reitman (Up In The Air, Juno) as his camera work is split in two. You get your standard movie drama set-up shots, but you also get beautifully shot docu-drama (almost voyeuristic) Steadicam shots that makes you feel like a fly on the wall, watching something you’re not supposed to. The script is solid and textured that, if you didn’t know any better, you’d swear that this was a 2016 campaign. Kinda scary when you think about it. Jackman, turning in his Adamantium claws for a double-wide tie and an 80’s hair cut (sorry, no mutton-chops), is pitch-perfect as Hart. Even the REAL Gary and Lee Hart thought so! Simmons is always at his best, with the supporting players being excellent.

Primary Colors (1998)
Political movies. Either they’re about some would-be Presidential candidates schoopting an innocent girl, doing something despicable, or being some kind of a dick. In this “sort-of” fictional movie, based on Bill Clinton, we have a gray-haired Southern gentlemen lying, scheming, and cheating his way to the White House. Hmmm…

Told through the young idealistic eyes of political analyst, Henry Burton (Adrian Lester), he’s recruited to join the campaign of charismatic Governor Jack Stanton (John Travolta), who’s trying to win the Democratic Party nom for POTUS. Impressed by the governor’s warmth and genuine empathy with people, Henry joins Stanton’s inner political advisers: Stanton’s formidable wife, Susan Stanton (Emma Thompson), ruthless political strategist Richard Jemmons (Billy Bob Thornton), spokeswoman Daisy Green (Maura Tierney), and sly political operator Howard Ferguson (Paul Guilfoyle), as they all journey to the all-too important New Hampshire primaries.

But, as in all POTUS races, dirt is dished out and the Team becomes worried that Stanton’s past indiscretions may be used against him by the press and his political opponents. They hire tough, but unbalanced Libby Holden (Kathy Bates), to investigate any allegations that could be used by Stanton’s political opponents. One by one, each ‘indiscretion’ is addressed and shut-down… by any means possible. But a HUGE allega-tion comes forth: Stanton’s old friend, “Big Willie” McCollister (Tommy Hollis) comes forth to state that his 17-year-old daughter is pregnant and that Stanton is the father!  Uh-oh!

But while THAT is going on, Stanton’s chief rival, Republican Senator Lawrence Harris (Kevin Cooney), suffers a heart attack and is replaced by genial and friendly Florida governor Fred Picker (Larry Hagman), who’s wholesome, straight-talking image proves an immediate threat to the Stanton campaign. So, what else is there to do but get some dirt on this guy?! However, after finding damaging stuff on Picker, Libby also finds out the TRUTH about Stanton and that 17-year-old girl. Henry is now caught in the cross-hairs of what is right and what is politically advantageous for his boss. What will he do?

This is one helluva movie with one helluva cast… it’s a shame it died at the box office. Brought to us by the 60’s comedy team of Nichols & May (Mike Nichols & Elaine May), Mike handled the direction, while wife Elaine adapted the script (based on the novel). The story, with all it’s corrupt inner workings, shady wheeling ‘n’ dealings, and this young kid stuck in the middle witnessing all of it, makes for a great plot and terrific ending that you might see coming, but will nonetheless shake you up anyway. The only problem with the film was the fact that it mirrored Bill Clinton in so many ways, even though it WAS a fictional tale.

Travolta even based his performance on Clinton, giving his character a Southern drawl and affectations like our 42nd POTUS did. A little dragged-out in sections, Nichols direc-tions never lagged too far behind with May’s smart & funny script that served up a gen-erous helping of both Southern Fried humor and serious drama. With all the political movies out there (and believe me, there are quite a few!), this is worth your rental or streaming time.

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