I am a long time fan of Jason Reitman, ranking Up In The Air and Juno amongst my favourite films of the 21st century. But even so I was a little skeptical when I heard about The Front Runner, a historical political drama that would have commentary on contemporary issues with cultural relevance and intrigue, as it seemed a little out of Reitman’s scope of dramedy.
The film opens with Gary Hart, a politician off the back of a loss in 1984, who does what he can for the Democratic nomination to be President in 1988. He’s everything that the “right” kind of President is and needs to be; handsome, smart, suave and inspiring to everyone around him. His team, including his wife (Vera Farmiga) and his campaign manager Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons), all believe in him and are sure of his future in the White House. There’s no reason to doubt his ability or not be on his side.
But his campaign and career come to a halt when a reporter receives word of Hart’s infidelity, even capturing him in part of the act. While at first only the minor papers pick up the story, it soon becomes national news and derails his future entirely. Hart maintains that the campaign should be about his policies, not his personal life. But the average viewer should be able to see how this ends from a mile away.
If you’re asking why this movie exists, it’s a good question. Hart’s case was the first of its kind of capture national interest and really led the way for how the media have inbuilt themselves into the personal lives of it’s government officials since. Everything that has happened since, from accusations of infidelity of Presidential hopefuls to familial drama of the nations Congressmen and Congresswomen, has been derived from this moment.
Jackman is relatively strong in this role and his ability to express his emotions through restricted facial movements and poised language is solid. It’s a far cry from his typical joyous self of his major performances, but that’s what makes the transformation all the more strong. Farmiga is underused and her character is underdeveloped, providing little context to the real relationship between the couple that could have added another dimension to the narrative. Simmons is also underused and sometimes falls into his stereotype of the angry older male.
It’s clear that Reitman feels the same as Hart – the 24 hour news cycle and gossip that plagues the headlines in the current day sidelines the important issues that politicians are standing for and is the lowest of the low information for the public to cling onto. It’s a worthy cause and opinion that isn’t wrong entirely, but comes across as simplistic in its approach. Is it wrong to look inside a politician’s social and personal life? There is no doubt a point where it becomes an invasion of privacy and the gossip magazines still try to stir drama into a public affair. But Reitman wants to make a plain point here: it’s about the issues, not the personal lives.
The Front Runner really tries to make a point but in the end it’s doesn’t really analyse the issues that it tries to raise. It fails as a political film, it fails as a historical film and it fails as an intriguing drama. Forgettable is the way to describe this one.
Jackman’s performance is light at the end of this long and dull tunnel. What viewers should be ready for is more of these nuanced performances and hopefully an Oscar is around the corner for him!
Lack of a focus, lack of emotion and lack of insight makes this film forgettable and begs the question: what is the value added with this production? There are so many questions and Reitman offers no answers to them.
Originally published on Back Row, 26 January 2019.