Film Review: The Front Runner

Jason Reitman’s political drama The Front Runner is an engrossing watch. The film is superbly scripted, and boasts solid performances from its cast.

In 1986, Gary Hart is the front runner to be the presidential candidate for the Democratic party in the 1988 election. A lot can change in three weeks…

Set over a three week period in 1986, The Front Runner tells the story of democratic candidate Gary Hart’s campaign demise. The film conveys how quickly the front runner’s campaign fell apart after a scandal. Reitman’s film focuses on different sets of characters – the candidate’s team,  the set of reporters who break the scandal, other reporters in the pool, and Hart’s family. The action jumps between various locations on the campaign trail, and from campaign to newspaper office.  

The story is told in a compelling way, with markers showing each of the three weeks. Pacing is good; the freneticism of the campaign is mirrored by the jumping from location to location, from conversation to conversation. Reitman harks back to the period with his shooting style and the titles. It can be a little hokey, but draws viewers into this world. 

The script, written by Reitman, Matt Bai, and Jay Carson, is fantastic. The dialogue gives an easy feel for the large cast of characters, conveying the personalities adroitly. The dialogue is often quick-fire, and there is plenty of humour to be found, amongst the more serious proceedings. The Front Runner has an enviable cast. Hugh Jackman gives a strong performance as Hart. J.K. Simmons, Mamoudou Athie, Jenna Kanell all highlights among a great cast. Music is used well throughout. 

What does The Front Runner say in this political age? The scandal which sunk Hart is far, far more tame than the numerous scandals that did not even dent the current US president. A couple of themes become clear. Reitman returns to the idea of the role of the press, questioning the shift from serious reporting to tabloid splashes. Yet this seems redundant in this new political age, when neither appears to make as much of an impact.

Furthermore, Reitman underlines Hart’s disparaging of the personal line of questioning he receives from the press. At the same time, the film makes it clear that this obtuseness is a hinderance to Hart’s own team, much to their frustration. Reitman sets up the paradox of a man who demands integrity from others, but lacks the very same himself. The Front Runner plays with these ideas – the role of the press, the public versus private persona of politicians, whether a scandal should deter an otherwise meritorious politician – without positing a firm opinion. The film works better for leaving these ideas for viewers to mull over themselves.

The Front Runner is a diverting watch, and one of Reitman’s more accomplished films.

The Front Runner is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.

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