Starring: Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J.K. Simmons
Director: Jason Reitman
Running Time: 113 mins
The Front Runner is an American story about the presidential campaign of Gary Hart, once favourite to become the next US President in 1988, until his campaign went completely off the rails.
Although you may think you’ve seen this sort of movie before, telling the story of a presidential campaign and all the chaos and frenzy surrounding it, The Front Runner offers a different approach to the political biopic, with an engrossing and eye-opening account of a turning point in modern history with far, far-reaching consequences, combining with an equally interesting history to provide a riveting watch throughout.
Gary Hart’s campaign for 1988 is something that’s well-known for those who lived it at the time, but it’s a part of recent history that hasn’t remained at the centre of the discussion since it happened, and many who are too young to remember the campaign – like myself – might not know anything about this story.
So, at its most basic level, The Front Runner does a great job at telling the story of how Hart came from being the overwhelming favourite for the next President to seeing his campaign fall completely apart, and as a bog-standard biopic, the movie is interesting and entertaining throughout. It does occasionally struggle to shine a light on the more personal and emotional elements of Hart’s reaction to events, and although that comment is something that’s speaks volumes given the film’s key themes, this is a far more factual and historical film as far as biopics go.
However, the film’s strongest suit is in its focus on the key theme of privacy, and the role that personality plays in politics. Contrasting political campaigning and the relationship between public officials and the media prior to 1988 with the development of events in this campaign, the film proves a striking and eye-opening account of just how much the dynamics of politics have changed over the years, with Gary Hart’s predicament proving a real turning point in history.
That’s where the film’s most engrossing element comes in, as it crafts itself as a wider discussion about whether journalists, the media and the general public have the right to go nosing into politicians’ personal lives, and what damage could be done to the development of politics if personality takes such precedence over policy.
The Front Runner tells a sobering story that weighs up freedom of the press and the importance of privacy, as it shows a hard-working and passionate man fall from grace for something that arguably has no relationship whatsoever with his political career, something that I found fascinating to learn and think about right the way through.
Hugh Jackman’s performance as Gary Hart plays in well to the film’s angle on the subject, with a likable and respectable turn that both endears you to Hart as an honest and dedicated politician, as well as brings you closer to his way of thinking, and how he reacts to the chaos that unfolds in his campaign due to an unexpected media frenzy, and even though the screenplay doesn’t quite play that right, Jackman’s performance is all you need to get on side with Hart and put yourself in his shoes.
Now, while the movie brilliantly portrays the debate about privacy and personality and their role in modern politics, the one thing that it doesn’t quite manage to pull off is that irreverent chaos and farce that surrounds political campaigning in particular.
The film certainly tries to do this, with an opening act that’s filled with quick-fire discussions and a handful of jokes, but it lacks a zippy energy and pace that other films like The Big Short and In The Loop do so well, instead failing to work well as a satire on the chaos and frenzy of politics simply due to a lack of rapid comic energy.
With that said, The Front Runner is still an enthralling watch, not only for how it details the story of a major campaign that went so badly wrong, but also for its intriguing and thought-provoking discussion about the changing nature of politics in the modern day, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.6 overall.