Film and Plot Synopsis
The Front Runner is the true story of the downfall of Senator Gary Hart. In 1987, Gary Hart was the front runner for the democratic nomination to run for President of the United States. Handsome, youthful, and focuses, it seemed like nothing could stop him from the White House. However, after an infamous boat cruise where he meets a young model, Hart becomes embroiled in a media firestorm as what happened on the boat, and what later happened at his townhouse.
‘The Front Runner’ Movie Summary
Three years later, Hart is announcing his intention to run for President of the United States in the mountains of Colorado. His campaign manager, Bill Dixon (J. K. Simmons), meets with his staff and talks about their strategies for the campaign. Dixon explains to the campaign staff that Hart does not want to talk about his personal life or his family, and he only wants to focus on relevant issues related to the campaign. Specifically, Dixon explains that the Senator will not discuss the rumors of his separation from his wife, Lee Hart (Vera Farmiga), years before.
Meanwhile, the media is trying to determine how they are going to approach covering Senator Hart. The Washington Post editor, Ben Bradlee (Alfred Molina), believes that it is beneath the Post’s reputation to engage in covering salacious materials such as rumored affairs or sexual trysts and directs his reporter, A. J. Parker (Mamoudou Athie) to focus on the facts. In contrast, the Miami Herald editor, Bob Martindale (Kevin Pollak) is willing to get into the mud if they believe it is factually accurate.
During the campaign, Hart travels to Miami and goes on a boat cruise with many possible donors to his campaign. The yacht is called Monkey Business. Hart engages in conversations with many beautiful women and has many drinks. A few weeks later, Tom Fielder (Steve Zissis), the Miami Herald reporter assigned to the Hart campaign, receives an anonymous call that informs him that Hart is meeting with a young woman from Miami at his townhouse in Washington D.C. that weekend. Fielder ignores the call initially since he knows the Senator’s itinerary doesn’t take him to the Capitol that weekend, but when Hart changes his plans to include Washington D.C., the reporter starts to follow up. He recruits the help of another reporter, Pete Murphy (Bill Burr), to help him investigate the allegation.
At the same time, Hart is being interviewed by Parker from the Post. When the reporter asks a question that the Senator feels is getting too personal or not relevant to his campaign, Hart tells Parker that type of journalism is beneath him. Hart challenges Parker and the other members of the press to follow him around. He insists that they will find it boring. Parker feels bad about asking the question, having developed a blossoming friendship with the Senator.
Meanwhile, the two Miami Herald reporters go to the Miami airport and follow a beautiful woman, later identified as Donna Rice (Sara Paxton), as she takes a flight to Washington D.C. The two men stake out Hart’s townhouse and see the woman and the Senator leave the townhouse several times in one night. Hart becomes aware of the reporters and confronts them in the alleyway behind his townhouse. He denies having an affair, although acknowledges that a woman was there that night. Hart calls Dixon for assistance, and he and Irene Kelly (Molly Ephraim) gather up Donna Rice and keep her out of sight of the media. Irene begins to sympathize for Donna as she will eventually have to face the world’s media without a staff or a press secretary.
Hart calls his wife at their home on Colorado. She lets him know how disappointed she is in him, and that the only thing he had to do was not embarrass her. Hart sends a staffer out to his house to run interference between the media and his wife and daughter, Andrea (Kaitlyn Dever). The media sets up camp outside the Hart home waiting for the family to come out.
Hart goes on the offensive and issues denials and attacks the media’s clandestine methods. Some media outlets begin to question the validity of the Herald’s story since the reporters’ could not see the back of Hart’s townhouse and could not see when Donna left. Donna makes denials as well, although false, and states that she was at the Senator’s house for a job interview. Opinion polls even indicate that the general public either believes Hart or does not care if he had an affair.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post receives photos from an anonymous source of Hart with yet another woman. This time, Bradlee decides to go with the story and orders Parker to follow up with the Senator on the photos and any other inappropriate relationships. Parker, who is still fond of the Senator, pushes back and states that they should not engage in such tabloid journalism. However, Bradlee orders him to follow up on the photos.
Hart has a chance to clear the air with the media at a press conference where he pronounces that the will answer all their questions and then he wants to get back on message. The media peppers him with questions and answers them all. Parker asks him if he has ever been unfaithful in his marriage, and the Senator refuses to answer the question. The media goes wild at his refusal. Shortly after the press conference, Parker asks to speak with Hart and to get a comment on the new photographs. Hart’s press secretary refuses an interview and tells Parker that the Post is now the National Enquirer after looking at the photographs. Meanwhile, Hart sees his wife talking to his daughter over the phone. From his wife’s tone, he can tell that Andrea is upset.
A few days later, Hart drops out of the campaign to protect his family from the intense media scrutiny. He remains defiant to the end, stating that the people will get the government that they deserve. He opines that the intense media coverage that political candidates are subjected to will keep good people from seeking public office.
A post script states that Senator Gary Hart and his wife Lee are still married to this day.
Additional Film Information
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