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The Front Runner – Movie Review

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The Front Runner – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Sony Pictures

The relationship between the politicians and the press is a major topic of discussion these days. How much should journalists be privy to? How much privacy should these public figures have? Jason Reitman uses Gary Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign to explore these issues and while Hart is a major focus, The Front Runner also gives plenty of time to his staff, family and other people affected by the reveal of his scandal. Reitman’s Altman-esque direction guides us through the events and circumstances, creating a compelling portrait of a political campaign gone wrong. It also addresses the press about what should be considered journalism and what is merely tabloid fodder.

Reitman doesn’t waste any time in taking us back to the 1980s and what Gary Hart was seeking to do as President of the United States. There are multiple scenes where he cuts to his campaign team, run by J.K. Simmons’s Bill Dixon, and we bear witness to the discussions going on behind the scenes. The conversations feel genuine, rather than scripted, as Reitman lets the actors talk over one another and the scenes are edited with the necessary flow. The same applies to the scenes set in newspapers, primarily the Miami Herald and the Washington Post. Reitman definitely take some inspiration from All the President’s Men in mounting those sequences and it works in establishing that environment and the internal discussions over what to publish.

Hugh Jackman brings the expected charisma to Hart, when he’s on the stage and making his promises. There is also a clear, loving relationship established with his family. However, this is also a frustrated man with a lot of thinking going on underneath. Jackman captures the stammering common in politicians when put on the spot, although the continually flashing cameras definitely have an effect on Hart’s nervousness. The Front Runner doesn’t let him off the hook, though, and one smart decision Reitman makes is giving plenty of screentime to the women in his life. Vera Farmiga gives a layered performance as his wife Lee as she grapples with the revelations. Meanwhile, Sara Paxton delivers strong work as Hart’s mistress Donna Rice, thrust into the spotlight. Ari Graynor commands respect, too, as political editor Ann Devroy.

The Front Runner also becomes a commentary about the evolution of newspapers into more sneaky forms of journalism. Reitman and director of photography Eric Steelberg frame multiple scenes where Hart is surrounded by the press and cameras and there’s an uncomfortable feeling as he tries to find his way out of the horde. Reitman seems particularly interested in showing the contrast between more prestigious newspapers and ones just looking for a scandalous story to tell, so they can fill their pages. Clearly, Hart’s affair is one that voters should be made aware of, but there are better ways in which the story could have come out.

The Front Runner is a film that asks legitimate questions to the audience and Jason Reitman doesn’t always provide a clear answer. That allows the film to do more than just preach to the choir as it seeks to explore the concept of privacy and how much public figures like politicians are allowed. It gets just enough inside Gary Hart’s head to understand his motivations and the film moves along at a decent pace and avoids any kind of repetition. The Front Runner provides multiple viewpoints, but there is no hero in this story. One of Jason Reitman’s best directorial trademarks is showing flawed human beings dealing with the curveballs thrown at them and that continues here.


Stefan Ellison

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