Jason Reitman's timely, invigorating 'The Front Runner' is about 'The Week Media Went Tabloid' [TIFF]

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There were a ton of Oscar Contenders that had their premieres at the Telluride Film Festival and, yet, I feel like this year's Toronto International Film Festival delivered better quality premieres.

Just look at the subdued receptions films like "Boy Erased," "Destroyer," "White Boy Rick," "Trial By Fire," "The White Crown," and even two of the more well-received titles, "Can You Ever Forgive Me" and "First Man" received at TIFF.

However, who'd a thunk it, the film that wasn't entirely well-received in the Colorado mountains ended up being one of the more pleasant surprises for me at TIFF: Jason Reitman's "The Front Runner." Based on Matt Bai‘s “All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid,” the film is a depiction of the events that led to Gary Hart, a front-running Presidential candidate back in 1988, to resign his nomination after news of illicit adulterous affairs, with a number of women, came to light. The media pounced on the opportunity to cover the story, this was the beginning of a ratings-obsessed media spectrum that would sacrifice ethics for low-brow journalism. The National Enquirer finally met its match and it was The New York Times, The Washington Post and company that all decided to delve into the game of gossip. All for the sake of ratings and selling more papers.

It's not like Hart's affinity for women wasn't known around the block either, it's just that his advisers thought it was a non-issue and that the public wouldn't care as much about it as they would his political agenda. Yes, this was a different time, even if it was just 30 years ago, and the film's flabbergasting depiction of a shift towards gossip-induced journalism is alarmingly revealed, strand by strand, by Reitman.

Hart is played with commendably subtle force by Hugh Jackman, and his wife, in a rather underwritten role, is played by Vera Farmiga, an actress that nevertheless delivers a stunningly emotional performance with what she is given here.

Reitman depicts Hart as stunned by the way his adultery would be covered by the media, after all, they had turned a blind eye towards the misgivings of such presidents as JFK, and Lyndon B Johnson. Why was he a target? Reitman shows it was because the media landscape was changing. Gone were the Edward R Murrow's of our time and in was the investigatory, dirt-digging hunt on anybody and everybody that was part of the public eye. The Hart story started when two Miami Herald journalists, given a tip by an unknown woman, hid behind the bushes of Hart's home, waiting to snap pictures of a mysterious blonde woman that would enter his apartment very late at night.

"The Front Runner" is a timely story because it's about a paradigm shift that happened in the world of media. 24/7 news cycles were starting to dominate and people were hungry for news, even if it meant the sleaziest kind. There’s also this great subplot about the diminishment of a woman’s worth, not just in politics but any job in America. Of course, Hart wasn't innocent by any stretch of the imagination, neither were the Kennedys in that regard, but the latter's political careers never laid in jeopardy, their misdeeds never reported, the establishment let them off easy.

If Hart had indeed become president, and the odds were with him, we would have never gotten a Bush Presidency, both father and son would have never done the damage that they did in that respect, but the media saw an opportunity to make more money by infringing into the private life of a front runner, a man that never thought his behavior would be condemned in the public eye. It was the beginning of an era. The ethics of journalism, as we knew it, died that year. [A-/B+]