By John H. Foote
Never did I appreciate Rex Harrison for his talent. He talked his songs, could not dance and barely got by as an actor. That Oscar for My Fair Lady (1964) was brought to him given the tide of goodwill that came to George Cukors film. Harrison did nothing for me, and even less when I discovered what a bullying inhuman dick he was as a human being.
I think the same of Hugh Jackman, though I concede, he can sing, dance a little is a handsome guy with charisma, he can even act a little. Never will I understand the acclaim for his performance in Les Miserables (2012), nor the love in between he and director Tom Hooper, who declared Les Miserables could not exist without Jackman. Um, well, it existed just fine on Broadway with some legendary Jean Valjeans who by the time they got around to making the film were too old to play the part. Jackman was ok in the film, but his work was hardly revelatory, nowhere near being a performance for the ages.
There is now wide acclaim growing for his performance here as disgraced Democrat Gary Hart, but once again, I do not see why.
Jackman is, at best, at his very best, ordinary as an actor.
The Frontrunner is at is best, a very ordinary film.
It seems inconceivable that just thirty years ago, a man could lose the Presidential nomination for having an affair. Today, the man sitting in the Oval Office is well known for his extramarital affairs, with porn stars and Russian hookers no less, but it did not matter. The thinking in the eighties seemed to be if that man would betray his wife, the person closest to him, the person he loved best, what type of credibility, honesty and morality could Americans expect of their President? Where, I wonder, did that thinking go when speaking of Trump? He seems almost proud of his actions with women, wears them like a badge of honour. He certainly does not hold any woman, not even his wives or daughters in any kind of esteem.
Gary Hart was headed for the White House in 1988, as the likely Democratic nominee. How different would history be had he won? There would have been no George Bush as President and very likely no George W. Bush. As a friend of Gorbachev, relations with Russian would have been good and strong. And Trump might be still just cheating builders and contractors, rather than President. With his Kennedy-sequence good looks and a twinkling sex appeal, Hart had the looks of a young President. He was intelligent, spoke well, was beloved by movie stars such as Warren Beatty, who tirelessly campaigned for him, he appeared to have it all.
However, when the press discovered he might be having an affair, they explored it and found it was true.
Hart underestimated the American public and the Democratic Party, believing they would look past the indiscretion because his wife forgave him, at least publicly.
How wrong he was. The press crucified him, forever ruining his political career, far beyond this run for President. As a politician, he was finished, and he could not quite understand why? His behaviour was not against the American people or his party, Hart felt it was a private family matter and honestly could not understand why his affair was front page news? It just did not occur to him that his character was being called out, that a man who cheated on his wife was not, after all, an honest man.
As directed by the usually impressive Jason Reitman, the man who gave us Juno (2007), Up in the Air (2009), Young Adult (2011) and the sublime Tully (2018), This film resembles the frantic, frenetic work of Robert Altman, with characters and scenes eventually interconnecting and intertwining. However, that is not to suggest young Reitman is Robert Altman. With Altman, there were always a handful of characters with genuine heart and a true humanity, but that is oddly absent here.
Jackman looks the part, suggests Gary Hart, but never did I believe I was watching Hart, and the effort to give a performance was always evident. The actor commits the worst of sins, we see him acting. I do not understand, at all, the Oscar talk swirling around his performance.
The supporting cast fares well enough but not enough to make much of an impression. Vera Farmiga is fine as his angry, humiliated wife who had her heart set on being First Lady, while J.K. Simmons is, as always a big shot on the Hart campaign.
After seeing the film at TIFF, I remain asking “what is all the fuss about?”
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.