Believe it or not there was a time when politicians were held accountable by the electorate for the actions in their personal lives. I know that may seem far-fetched to younger audiences, but it’s true. Political careers were ruined by weird howls, misspellings of common words and other incidents that were, admittedly, inconsequential and often unrelated to their actual jobs or positions.
The Front Runner, directed by Jason Reitman, tells just such a story. Hugh Jackman stars as Gary Hart, a U.S. Senator running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988. Hailed as a man with widespread appeal and a knack for common sense talk, Hart’s trajectory is derailed when it’s revealed he’s had an affair. The story follows his fall, examines the role of the press in prying into a candidate’s personal life and more.
Hart’s campaign bus is seen careening off a cliff on the first poster, an apt metaphor for how things played out. Seen still on the cliff are members of the press, though it’s unclear whether they were simply following it or if they chased it to that predicament. The copy at the bottom lays out the premise of the story by stating “Gary Hart was going to be President. Instead he changed politics forever.”
The second poster takes a more star-centric approach, using Jackman’s face as the central component as he looks a bit overwhelmed and bewildered while surrounded by a gaggle of microphones and cameras. The final poster uses a variation on that, just shifting the setting to the inside of a car that Hart is using to escape the throng.
As the first trailer starts Gary Hart is the affable, plain-spoken front runner in the 1988 Presidential campaign, uncomfortable with the trappings of campaigning and just wanting to talk about the issues. All of that comes crumbling down when someone discovers a young woman leaving his home, leading to the downfall of his candidacy and the end of his time in politics as well as causing problems in his marriage.
What’s most interesting here is not just the picture of Hart that’s being painted but the conversations happening among members of the press, who are uncertain whether such rumors and gossip are worth passing on. That, along with the rest of what’s shown here, present a story about men being held accountable for their actions, actions they thought they could get away with free from repercussions.
It’s the same basic story in the second trailer, though there’s a bit more overt examination of what role the press can – and should – play in reporting on the tawdry details of someone’s life.
Online and Social
Not much beyond the usual information on Sony’s official website. As usual, I wish there was a bit more historical context for the story the movie is telling to help inform audiences.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Online ads used some of the key art and social ads used the trailers and other videos. There’s nothing I could find that’s explicitly labeled a TV spot, but videos like this that were shared on social look and feel like commercials.
Of course Ryan Reynolds, who’s long had a friendly rivalry with Jackman, couldn’t resist running a negative political ad of his own.
Media and Publicity
The publicity for the movie kicked off with the release of a still of Jackman in character, showing just what he’d look like in the role of the real-life politician. Sony later picked up distribution rights to the movie.
Right after the first trailer was released in late August the announcement came the movie would screen at the Telluride Film Festival as well as at Toronto. It was later slated as the closing night film for the Vancouver International Film Festival.
During the Toronto screening Jackman shot down speculation the movie had awakened any political aspirations of his own as well as what it took to get into character, including what his least favorite part of that process was. Sony released a sizzle reel that recapped some of the happenings at TIFF.
It was then announced among the titles appearing at the Austin Film Festival and the Chicago Film Festival.
The production crew was put in the spotlight for their efforts in recreating the world of 1988.
Jackman was interviewed about taking on the role of a real life person and more. Meanwhile Reitman spoke about the movie but also about the changing way technology has enabled a new generation of filmmakers to learn the ropes.
This is a really solid campaign. It’s not flashy or splashy but positions itself as a middle-of-the-road drama about an era in American politics that seems to have passed us by. Jackman looks very good as does the rest of the cast.
If there’s a problem, it’s in the lack of information about the larger issues the movie tackles that accompanies the campaign. As I stated above, I would have liked to have seen more historical context, or some attempt to educate people about the media issues raised by the story. That kind of additional effort would have helped generate a lot of interest in specialty audiences that could have spilled out into the general audience and helped raise its profile. As it is it’s coming out amidst a sea of holiday spectacle movies aimed at families and doesn’t have a super-strong point of differentiation.