by Charles Kirkland Jr.
The reason why no one has uttered the words “President Gary Hart” come to life as the world of politics takes a dramatic change during his presidential campaign in The Front Runner.It’s 1988 and Senator Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) is running for president. Leaving his wife Lee (Vera Farmiga) and daughter at home, Gary takes to the campaign trail. While on the trail, Hart has an extramarital situation arise. As the questions fly, the senator realizes that his campaign may be about more than it ever has been previously.
Directed by Jason Reitman (Up In The Air, Thank You For Smoking, Juno) and written by Matt Bai and Jay Carson based upon Bai’s book “All The Truth Is Out,” The Front Runner is a look at a specific moment in the time when many believed that political campaigns changed almost forever. It is through the experience and words of Gary Hart that we realize that “tabloid” journalism becomes mainstream and that political life has become an all-encompassing and constant cycle. While Jackman’s Hart longs for the days where a man’s private life (and affairs) were private, it is clear that, in this campaign, those days are over.
Jackman’s work is exemplary. He plays Hart with convincing conviction as the man whose world is crumbling around him and has no idea of how to escape. Consummate professional (and Reitman go-to-guy) J.K. Simmons is also incredible as Bill Dixon, the frustrated campaign manager who has answers and directions but fails to get Hart to follow. However, these performances are not enough to rescue the film.
Reitman and crew do an excellent job of capturing the look and feel of the time and Hart’s campaign. He utilizes the talent well in conveying the confused and uncomfortable feelings that Hart, Donna Rice (Sara Paxton) and generally the whole campaign staff feel. However, he does not allow us to feel anything toward anyone on the screen. It could be the cold and detached nature of Senator Hart but the whole movie comes across as a bit emotionless and feels more like a bad documentary. Reitman would have been better served picking a side and showing the emotion behind it.
It is understandable that Reitman and crew would want to just tell a story but when the subject matter is so unfamiliar to many alive now, the movie may have been better served to make itself more relatable to today’s viewers. While the word scroll at the end of the movie gave the current status of the individuals, much of the same time could be served drawing a comparison and/or contrast from that time to the current political climate. There were a few throwaway lines regarding the sexual proclivities of presidents prior to Hart but in the same way (or even better) a connection should have been made to the proclivities of those currently in office. Even the growing contention between the candidate and the press would have been an easy connection to make. Unfortunately, the movie never makes these steps.
Rated R for language and sexual references, The Front Runner portrays a dark, dismal, engrossing and contentious time that shaped modern day politics and turns it into a peep through a keyhole about what went wrong. Sadly, much like the main character of the film, I wonder if Reitman and company knew where they went wrong.