Writers: Matt Bai, Jay Carson and Jason Reitman
Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J.K. Simmons, Alfred Molina, Bill Burr and Sara Paxton
Review: Michael Dalton, Prime Minister
As the current president seems scandal-proof, The Front Runner takes us back to a time when one affair could sink a candidate.
The Front Runner is in many ways a throwback. Not only is its story a throwback to what seems like a simpler time in politics, but the way in which it tells that story feels like its been ripped from the era at hand. Director Jason Reitman imbues the film with period detail, while the screenplay is a considered piece of work that avoids sensationalism and strains to give everyone their say.
However, like the Hart campaign, what gives The Front Runner its momentum is the performance of its leading man. Most famous for playing Wolverine, it’s rare to see Hugh Jackman take on a more grounded, human role, especially one that is based on a real-life figure. Here, Jackman’s natural charisma and screen presence is put to good use, as he perfectly fits the image of the charming politician. Jackman has to do a lot of the heavy lifting for the film in terms of conveying to the audience why a Hart presidency was such an attractive prospect. While a lot of people in the film talk about what a good president he would be, it’s up to Jackman to make you believe it.
That being said, it’s in capturing the darker aspects of Hart’s character where Jackman’s performance is at its most impressive. One of the more likable men in Hollywood, Jackman excels at capturing Hart’s initial sneakiness when embarking upon the affair and later stubbornness when confronted with the media's attention. Through Jackman’s performance, one theory the film posits as to why Hart was treated differently to others is his own refusal to accept the new realities of politics. In one standout scene where he argues with his campaign manager Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons), Hart angrily shouts that he’s defending ‘the sanctity of the process.’ Although, in that moment it appears as if he is more concerned with the sanctity of his own privacy above anything, or anybody, else. The question of whether or not those two things are one and the same is among many that the film asks of its audience.
The film’s refusal to give any definitive answers of its own is something that works both to its credit and detriment. On the one hand, its level-headedness could be seen as a refreshing act of respect to both the people involved and the audience. On the other, in the polarized times in which we live, such an approach can seem like the story it’s telling, a quaint throwback to a simpler time. In moments it’s like watching a politician who’s afraid to give their stance on a particular issue, strategically hedging their bets, much to our frustration. Furthermore, in being so reluctant to explicitly make the connection between its story and the present day, the film slightly devalues its claims to timeliness.
It didn’t help The Front Runner that I’d seen Sorry to Bother You a few days before it and Fahrenheit 11/9 immediately afterwards. Those are films that, while not without flaws, feel engaged and alive to the current moment. We’ve had a particularly political year at the movies with Trump’s presidency trickling down to our cinema screens in films ranging from Spike Lee’s BlackkKlansman to Blumhouse horror The First Purge. While something more restrained may therefore be exactly what we need, in relation to some of those films The Front Runner can’t help but feel outdated. This is something that is especially unforgivable considering the overdue conversation that is going on in the public sphere in the wake of #MeToo.
Overall, The Front Runner is an interesting if occasionally frustrating watch. Its old-fashioned approach is refreshing, yet its lack of fire slightly undermines its coy claims to timeliness. Nevertheless, propelled by a strong performance from Hugh Jackman, The Front Runner is a considered and thought-provoking piece of cinema.
Movie Parliament Rating: MINORITY GOVERNMENT
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,