In 1988, Gary Hart was all but a lock to win the presidency. But when a newspaper was tipped off about an extramarital affair, the train derailed quickly.
A Timely Story;
Ensemble Cast Does Great Work;
But It Lacks A Voice.
It is no accident that this movie was made at this time and released (in select cities) on the day of the midterm elections. It tells a true story and draws heavy parallels to our time and does so flawlessly, giving the audience a lot to chew on after the house lights go up without spoonfeeding them. Reitman, Bai and Carson have taken a very topical issue (press vs politics) and presented both sides with equal screen time. It’s an admirable endeavor, but lacks a strong enough voice to resonate anywhere near the level that must have been its goal.
The cast that the team assembled does some great work, from top billing on down. Hugh Jackman, JK Simmons, Vera Farmiga and more command their roles very well, and those without the necessary amount of screen time (especially Farmiga) make the most of what they are given. Jackman is as likeable as a popular politician needs to be, but since this took place when I was only five, I can’t speak accurately to his portrayal of Hart himself. I was also impressed with Molly Ephraim, whom I only really know from Last Man Standing, so I didn’t know what she was capable of and she was a pleasant surprise.
Reitman is a director I admire, and it was his name that drew me to this the most. It doesn’t rank among his best work for me, but he does a good job of steering a large cast down the path the script has carved out, and employs some distinct style along the way. There are several scenes where there is a lot of dialogue going on amongst a big group of characters and his camera moves effortlessly around the room, in and out of conversations and changing focus to follow what we need to focus on, even if it is changing rapidly. The press conference scenes are tense, claustrophobic and immersive, showing a predatory side of the press that is easy to vilify, if one chooses. Often, when the camera is fixed upon more stable characters, it doesn’t move, but shots of Hart are handheld and shaky, aiding the notion that his life is falling apart and that it is rattling him.
The main issue is that, in showing so much of both sides, Reitman and company never firmly come down on one or the other. Are they trying to defend the right to privacy of public figures, damning the behavior of a newly-reprehensible press? Are they saying that the people have a right to know every last detail of those they elect as their leaders, no matter how salacious and damaging? Considering that this is the era of “fake news,” a term whose meaning varies widely among those who utter it, I was surprised at the lack of more of a satirical slant. It is more subdued and informative, and while that may be the point (and now that I think of it, could be an indicator of how Reitman wishes the press would operate), it comes off a bit flat as the result. If this truly was the moment where the American press decided the tabloid approach was the right one, that ratings were king and had to be fought for at all cost, then the result should stand out more, instead of being destined to fade into the background like Gary Hart did.