First Hit: I liked the feel of the film in that it felt almost documentary like versus a deep dive into the character(s).
Like Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) the candidate himself, the film didn’t go into his feelings or into the deeply personal aspects of the main character. Gary, as portrayed here, only wanted it to be about good ideas, a government that runs well, a government that focuses on people, and a strong ethical honest government.
The problem is that he didn’t think the public's opinion about his ethics towards his marriage and wife mattered. Gary comes across as if the big picture of what he represented for government was the only thing worth discussing and everything else he was above discussing. This was his downfall, because as we know, people must also relate to a Presidential candidate at a personal level as well and if they cannot, any flaws that are publicly played out will find a life of their own and possibly doom the candidacy.
His wife, Lee Hart (Vera Farmiga), liked her life living on a Colorado ranch and didn’t like engaging with and traveling with Gary as he campaigned for President. The scenes where Gary and Lee are together, were strong in how they related to each other at a level that worked for them and maybe it wasn’t typical.
In one scene, Lee states, “I only asked that you not embarrass me.” He did embarrass Lee and did so by attending a gathering of supporters on a boat called “Monkey Business” where he met a young woman named Donna Rice (Sara Paxton). The press then, and a little in the film, made fun of where he met Donna Rice, a young beautiful blonde and smart (graduated “summa cum laude”) woman. Hart’s disdain for the party and the people on the boat, except Donna, is aptly shown.
In press interviews, like on the boat, Gary only wanted to talk about the important stuff and this philosophy was echoed by his campaign manager Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons). They didn’t want to appear on food shows or go to fairs in Iowa. He didn’t want to be asked about what he liked and, on the occasion, where he’d show up to a public event, like the lumberjack contest, he wanted to be seen as honest, strong, and the man with the answers who could also throw an axe.
The film floats, with distance from all the characters, from scene to scene. We pop into press briefings, strategy sessions, team meetings, telephone calls, press interviews. Everything is done with some distance except when Donna and Irene Kelly (Molly Ephraim) spend time together as Donna gets moved out of Washington DC, where she had a tryst with Gary, and back to Miami FL.
The scene when Donna goes down the escalator in Miami’s airport is heartbreaking because she’s alone and Irene can no longer help her. Irene sitting at the bar, is so telling.
With a slight distance, we watch newspaper editors discussing covering Hart and reporters doing their job of digging up stories that either support or do not support the candidate. The Washington Post reporter Roy Valentine (Nyasha Hatendi) interview with Gary and the press interview where Roy asks very poignant questions were very powerful scenes. The breakdown of Gary’s façade was perfect.
When his team learns, that Gary is leaving the presidential race, the team, who so believed in him, are disappointed, and it shows.
Jackman was excellent as the handsome, smart politician with great hair, Gary Hart. His ability to keep people at a distance, while drawing them in with his ideas was perfect. Farmiga was wonderful as Lee Hart. Her hurt was appropriately displayed while showing her strong independent nature as well. Hatendi was outstanding as the reporter learning the ropes of asking the hard questions. Loved the scene in the final press briefing Gary gave. Ephraim was sublime as the key woman on Gary’s campaign team, who also had a heart. When she asked Gary at dinner about how Donna was doing, his response showed so well on her face. Simmons was great as Gary’s campaign manager. His distaste for making it personal was perfectly aligned with Gary’s view of the world, until it didn’t. Paxton was wonderful as Donna. I loved her telling Irene about her previous boyfriends over drinks. Matt Bai, Jay Carson, Jason Reitman wrote a strong telling script that was well executed by director Reitman.
Overall: I liked how story played out on film.