‘The Front Runner’ Director Jason Reitman on true story’s relevance

Gary Hart was destined to be President. His campaign for the Oval Office in 1988 was hot with a solid double-digit lead over the Democratic field. He was well-liked, focused, charismatic, an all-American family man, and a visionary. He just had one major issue that lead to his downfall: he was a bit of a womanizer. This is what lead to a media circus around his alleged affair with a woman named Donna Rice that would then set the stage for how we view the media around politics.

Hart’s presidential-size scandal is the focus of the new film “The Front Runner,” starring Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J.K. Simmons, Molly Ephraim, and Kevin Pollack among many many others. It is the eighth film from three-time Academy Award nominated filmmaker Jason Reitman. Funnily enough though, Reitman had no idea about the story of Gary Hart until just three years ago when he heard it on an episode of the podcast Radiolab.

“I really wasn’t familiar with the story and then when I heard that episode [of Radiolab], I just couldn’t believe it that there was this moment in our recent history where the next president of the United States was in an alleyway in the middle of the night with these journalists and then less than a week later, he would walk away from politics forever,” said Reitman. “And I knew right away I wanted to make this movie.”

After Reitman heard Hart’s story, he discovered that political adviser and strategist Jay Carson and “All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid” author Matt Bai were working on penning the script to the game changing story. “This is a script that was written on the backs of their experience,” said Reitman. “It was meant to put you right there on the campaign trail, whether you’re on the newspaper floor or the campaign bus. The idea was for it to be hyperreal.”

This hyperreality is captured with a grainy lense that feels straight out of the 1970’s. This was wholly Reitman’s intention from the get go. Reitman sought to capture the essence of acclaimed maverick directors from the time like Robert Altman and Michael Richie (whose film “The Candidate” he describes as “The Front Runners” north star). And their inspiration something that is abundantly present from the very opening sequence.

“[The script] was meant to put you right there on the campaign trail, whether you’re on the newspaper floor or the campaign bus. The idea was for it to be hyperreal.”

“Right from the top, we wanted to set this feeling over a two-and-a-half minute sprawling shot that there was going to be more conversation than one could follow at one time,” said Reitman. “The idea is that if this is a movie about what is important, what is relevant versus what is entertaining, we want the audience to make those kind of decisions right from the get go so we hit them with three different conversations happening at once, all these different visual, things happening off-screen so much so that you have to start making decisions as an audience to ‘okay this is what I want to listen to of all the things that are happening off-screen.’”

The big overwhelming level of characters and conversations is the main driving force behind the film. With this, Reitman is all about giving the audience a unique way to approach a morally and emotionally complex story. Again, this was his intention from the get go.

“I would tell people what it was about, everyone had a different response. Everyone kind of aligned themselves with a different character and that’s why we made a movie with 20 main characters so you can kinda hook your line with anybody,” said Reitman. “There are so many ways to watch this movie through and we wanted to give everyone the opportunity to have a different way in.”

This is Reitman’s way of bringing out the aching humanity at the core of the story. That even though we are witnessing the conception of tabloid politics, he never eases off of the fact that it’s a film about the mess of connections between personal relationships, tough choices, and what we choose to listen to and believe.

Now more than ever, this is a brutally relevant narrative.

“It’s funny because we wrote this movie in 2015…We thought it was relevant then and it’s now too relevant, I could do with less relevancy, I would be totally fine with me,” joked Reitman.

“The Front Runner” opens in NY/ LA on Election Day, Nov. 6 and opens in Chicago on Nov. 16.