The Front Runner
11th January 2019 (UK)
American Senator Gary Hart's presidential campaign in 1988 is derailed when he's caught in a scandalous love affair.
Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J.K. Simmons
I honestly cannot care to write about this movie. The Front Runner is a well-intentioned, even sophisticatedly made political drama with a fine central performance from Hugh Jackman (Movie 43, The Fountain) but it is ultimately a strain to remember due to a safe script that never invests you emotionally. There’s really nothing much to say of any significance. It never reaches the heights of its peers. There is no sense of immediacy like Spielberg’s The Post, or a beating heart like Sean Penn in Milk. It would be unfair to call the film dull, but it does feel unequivocally flat and empty at times. Hense this brief review.
The film depicts the real-life story of Gary Heart, a democratic U.S Senator who became the accepted favourite to win the 1988 presidential candidate before a crushing fall from grace after intense media scrutiny exposes an affair. The tagline for The Front Runner tantalisingly states “The Week America went Tabloid”, and the film is at its strongest thematically when pondering whether this was the beginnings of the media frenzy world we live in today. However, it never dives deep enough into its subject matter to feel worthwhile. There are some interesting comparisons and ironic relevance today, but again, they end up being nothing but passing thoughts whilst I hoped for something more engaging.
Hugh Jackman flexes some legitimate acting muscle despite the less than stellar material. Unfortunately, I feel it’s going to get lost amongst this year’s more extreme performances. I’m sure good ol’ Hugh is livid that Christian Bale is transforming his body once again in a similar looking political drama Vice, which I have to admit, looks a good deal more compelling than this Jason Reitman (Up In The Air, Thank You for Smoking) film. The supporting cast is solid, consisting of an underused Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring, Source Code), the always delightful J.K. Simmons (Patriots Day) and Alfred Molina (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time). They do help to create a tapestry of the depicted events from both inside the media bubble and within Gary Hearts family, which is admirable. But even without knowing the story or the outcome, I was disappointed how unexcited I still felt.
The film is sufficiently directed by Reitman, who is usually a solid bet as a director. There is an excellently orchestrated crowd scene in the film’s opening that promises a visual imprint, but as the monotony set in so did his directorial voice and I became subjected to a baffling amount of slow pans of people talking in boardrooms. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it does feel like safe filmmaking compared with Reitman’s other work.
The Front Runner is an unfortunate middle of the road kind of movie. Completely unsatisfying but not without merit it’ll hold your attention but once the credits start rolling, you might seriously contemplate whether it was worth it.
An excellent Hugh Jackman
Asks some interesting questions about journalism