THE FRONT RUNNER

★★

A TONE-DEAF LOOK AT WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN

THEATRICAL REVIEW
By Jess Fenton
12th December 2018

When the moral character, ethical character and general humanity of the current U.S. president has been under so much scrutiny these last few years, with many even using it as grounds to launch an impeachment and what seem like endless lawsuits, it’s hard to imagine a time when this stuff wasn’t even considered by not just the voting public but the informers of the voting public, the media. One might consider a film highlighting such an era and preaching these ideas is ill-timed - they would be right. That it’s stupid to even make such a film - possibly. And that said film is bad as a result... not so fast.

In the lead up to any Presidential election, there’s what is known in the biz as a “front runner” A.K.A. The Favourite, the one the polls and bookies have to win. For the 1988 election that front runner was Democrat Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman, ‘Logan’). He was handsome, whip-smart, charismatic, and he was looking to shake up the system - ironically to allow more transparency within the parties. Yet his Achilles heel is his personal life. Hart constantly becomes angry and flustered when asked about his separation from his wife and accusations that he’s a womaniser, refusing to believe the public are interested in his personal life or that it should matter anyway. Following his campaign around in the lead-up to the Primaries, we see inside his camp, his family and the core press following his trail. When an anonymous phone call to The Miami Herald claims that not only is Hart having an affair but they can say who, when and where, the reporters stake out Hart’s home and catch him with a young woman that is, needless to say, not Mrs Hart. And since we’re all living in 2018, I don’t need to tell you what happens next.

'THE FRONT RUNNER' TRAILER

Life is full of “what ifs” - even the movies dabble from time to time (Hi Gwyneth!) - but this is a real life head-fuck of a What If. Gary Hart was going to be the next President of the United States. If he had followed through, that would have meant no George H.W. Bush, and possibly no Bill Clinton (no Monica Lewinsky!), no George Jr, no Obama, and without Obama there definitely wouldn’t be a Trump. That’s the last 30 years of history, gone. Ain’t that something. But what of the the film ‘The Front Runner’? When you want handsome and charismatic, it’s hard to look past one Hugh Jackman. And while he’s incredibly talented and hits all the right emotional notes, it’s refreshing to actually see him act without a gimmick such as singing, dancing, muscles or a romantic storyline, yet he suffers under a screenplay that presents only half a character. Poor Hart isn’t fleshed out enough. All the good stuff goes to the campaign staff, the journos and newspaper editors and the in-cred-ible ensemble cast that portray them including JK Simmons (‘Whiplash’), Mamoudou Athie (‘Patti Cake$’) and Alfred Molina (‘Spider-Man 2’).

I just want to grab Jason Reitman and yell, “Dude! Read the room!”

It’s hard to get behind or empathise with a character who we’re told is a political genius but are never really shown it. And in the pro and con column, no one ever actually confirms whether or not Hart had the affair. He denies it publicly and to his staff, as does the woman is question. Yet he apologises to his wife, but that presumably is for the chaos and embarrassment that has now befallen their family. Again, Hart is never presented as sleazy or misogynistic, nor is his marriage shown to be rocky, although we are informed of a separation years earlier. We’re never actually given a reason or systemic behaviour for his adultery - this presents the question of whether it actually happened or not, which isn’t nor should it be the point of the story, yet ultimately in this film it is.

In early 2018, 'The Front Runner's' director Jason Reitman (‘Up In The Air’) gave us his finest film in years, ‘Tully’. After a few too many missteps, the fan inside me was ecstatic that he finally looked like he was back. Now, I’m not sure if ‘Tully’ was a fluke or he’s simply stumbled again. I genuinely enjoyed ‘The Front Runner’ until enough post-screening time had passed that I was able to sit back and really examine what the film was telling me, and that’s when I felt sick. I just want to grab Jason Reitman and yell, “Dude! Read the room!” Five years ago, ‘The Front Runner’ could have been a standout, but today it just comes off as tone deaf. Well made, but tone deaf. Sorry Jason. Sorry Hugh.

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