This review was originally published as part of our London Film Festival coverage on 15/10/2018.
It’s a tough time to talk about America; any film covering politics is drawn into the vortex of the current climate. The Front Runner is no exception; in positioning itself as something of a quasi-origin story, it dooms itself to living in the shadow of our reality. Not that it matters – The Front Runner is a mixed bag even without the obvious context.
Hugh Jackman does give an excellent performance as idealistic presidential hopeful Gary Hart, a man cursed with political foresight but blind to the changing cultural tides. As the man with his head in the sand, Jackman often seems trapped – but he seizes every opportunity he can to hint at the murky depths beneath the still water.
Ultimately, The Front Runner prefers to offer a zippy Sorkinesque take on the political churn rather than look behind the curtain in any detail. This approach is undeniably well-implemented; Reitman and co.’s screenplay is whip-smart, and helped along by a fantastic ensemble. J.K. Simmons leads the pack in a typically gruff and shouty role, though Alfred Molina is tragically left on the bench as the latest incarnation of Ben Bradlee.
Unfortunately, it takes only a cursory glance at Wikipedia to realise the film is oversimplifying – and not necessarily to the film’s benefit. Focusing on three weeks adds pace and humour, but a quick coda covering future events of Gary Hart’s political ambition would have better embedded Jackman’s choices in the role.
The Front Runner claims to give us the origins of the now long-standing antagonism between press and politics, but like Gary Hart, the film just feels behind the times. A product of a different era, this boilerplate political thriller will be as long-remembered as its protagonist.
CAST: Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J.K. Simmons, Sara Paxton, Molly Ephraim
DIRECTOR: Jason Reitman
WRITERS: Matt Bai, Jay Carson, Jason Reitman (screenplay), based on Bai’s book All the Truth is Out
SYNOPSIS: American Senator Gary Hart’s presidential campaign in 1988 is derailed when he’s caught in a scandalous love affair.