Film review: The Front Runner

Michael Woodward reviews Hugh Jackman's new film The Front Runner, out on Friday 11 January


Film review: The Front Runner

It’s that time of year where political movies of any real calibre begin to descend upon us. The Front Runner tells the story of the almost-forgotten, sure to be Democratic Presidential candidate of 1988, Gary Hart, whose campaign was cut short when the story of an affair came to light.

The film begins with the usual playful energy you’d expect from its director, Jason Reitman, but as you’d guess from a political film starring Wolverine, this is Hugh Jackman’s movie. And rightly so. He’s both winsome and charismatic as the senator and, along with a sharp script co-written by the author of the book on which the film is based, is supported well by a strong ensemble cast.

All other modicums of great filmmaking are there. A wonderfully fresh and original score by Rob Simonsen. Great camerawork, presumably using film stocks from the era, is  ccompanied by art direction and styling that transport you straight into the late 1980s which, for the most part, is all rather enjoyable. There are a few questionable wigs and did everyone really smoke that much?!

Once the film settles and the drama ensues, we encounter a fundamental problem. How do you overcome the issue that your protagonist is morally in the wrong? Jackman’s Hart is charming enough and you get a sense the Senator was a politician with real purpose. We see him rally the youth of America in a way that today, would only pass as work of pure fiction. But it’s all tainted for them and us when his trust is lost with the act of infidelity.

The overriding message is whether his private life should ever have come into question at all, and ultimately whether it ever should for our present-day politicians. The idea that it shouldn’t will feel quite alien to most of us now, but at the time it was unheard of for tabloid and broadsheet journalism to intersect in this way. Gary is literally appalled at the low these ‘journalists’ have slumped to, but you can’t help feeling like he’s foolish for thinking his wrongdoing won’t somehow have consequences.

Overall it’s an interesting portrait of a man who makes an annoyingly stupid mistake. There’s a real sense of how much of a wasted opportunity it all was; gladly not something you could say about the film itself.

That being said, the genre along with Reitman’s movie-making trajectory would suggest it’s sniffing out awards. I’m sure come the season the film will be amongst the contenders, but unfortunately, this front runner may be lagging slightly behind.