The Front Runner is a detailed re-telling of the implosion of Gary Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign.
This unfolded over just a few weeks, starting when Hart and Donna Rice met on a chartered boat in March, 1987, with a picture of Rice sitting on Hart’s knee later emerging from the soiree.
Then, just a few weeks later, Rice flew out to Washington and was photographed going into Hart’s townhouse, which is when the married father of 2 was approached by reporters that had followed her there.
The real details of what happened between Hart and Rice have never been revealed.
Ahead of “The Front Runner’s” release, an article from The Atlantic alleged that Republican operative Lee Atwater had made a deathbed confession that he set-up and staged the events that led to Hart’s downfall.
But “The Front Runner’s” screenwriters Jay Carson and Matt Bai, who wrote the book upon which the film is based, have now dismissed Atwater’s claims.
“It is interesting,” explains Carson. “To me it just adds more intrigue to a really intriguing story.”
“I don’t think it is possible for the whole thing to have been a set-up. There was too much complicity on the parts of many people that couldn’t have been controlled.”
Bai agrees, adding, “I talked to Jim when he did his story for The Atlantic. I talked to him a couple of times. I find it fascinating. I would love to know more.”
“But, with the film, we are so focused on all the forces that are changing in society at that time. So whatever combination of things set them in motion is kind of secondary.”
The murkiness surrounding the events that led to Hart’s fall from grace were exactly what made the former Senator such a ripe cinematic figure for Bai and Carson.
“We don’t do heroes and villains,” Carson insists. “It frustrates people sometimes.”
“But having spent 40 years between us in the upper echelons of politics and having got to know people on a personal level that people consider ‘heroes,’ we have seen that they do heroic things, but they ain’t heroes.”
“Then meeting people that others consider the biggest villains on Earth and realizing that they ain’t 100% through and through villains. I am allergic to that idea. We just want to show people as human beings with all of their deep human complexities.”
Considering that most of the details surrounding “The Front Runner” will never be known, both Bai and Carson are astonished at just “how true the film is” and “how many of the scenes contain stories or lines or emotions that come completely from reality.”
“It hit me the last time I saw it,” Bad admits. “There’s this line that always makes audiences laugh, where when Bill Dixon, played by JK Simmons, first talks to Donna Rice, played by Sara Paxton, and says, ‘You haven’t worked in politics. Why did you want to work for Senator Hart?’ And she says, ‘I like his positions.’”
“He gives a wry smile, the audiences laughs, its funny, but it is also true. That is literally what she said.”
“Every time I see it I always see something new that might think it is a nice flourish of writing but is actually true. Where we didn’t know what happened we didn’t allow the gap in the objective truth to dictate what we put in the screenplay.”
“There are things we put in the screenplay because we wanted the audience to wonder and we didn’t want them to get caught up in the wrong things.”
“There are things in the script that we intuited. Like conversations between Gary Hart and his wife that no-one was privy to.”
“When we write we come from a supposition that the audience is really smart. That they’ll catch-up. That we don’t have to spell things out,” adds Carson.
“You see a lot of that in here, we leave a lot of subtle detail that some of the audience may miss, rather than making it really obvious and annoying smart viewers.”
“The Front Runner” is now in theaters.