Directed By Jason Reitman
Starring – Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J.K Simmons
The Plot – The film follows the rise and fall of Senator Hart (Jackman), who captured the imagination of young voters and was considered the overwhelming front runner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination when his campaign was sidelined by the story of an extramarital relationship with Donna Rice (Sara Paxton). As tabloid journalism and political journalism merged for the first time, Senator Hart was forced to drop out of the race; events that left a profound and lasting impact on American politics and the world stage.
Rated R for adult language including some sexual references
– All boys club. While the film regrettably wastes away the talents of Farmiga, the work of Jackman and Simmons are more than enough to keep the entertainment factor of the audience consistent. Jackman’s transformation into Hart shows an empathetic and articulately intelligent side to the politician than we’ve ever seen. As expected, Jackman commits himself freely to the role, echoing off no shortage of long-winded and volume-increasing diatribes that have him commanding the presence of the screen firmly. Simmons is his usual comedic self, but his sharp tongue pierces the scenery of every scene he comes into contact with, because of the overlapping witty banter written by Reitman, Jay Carson, and author Matt Bai. This trio of reputable writers rivals only that of Aaron Sorkin in terms of cool consistency, and it allows Simmons to shine in his best deliveries since 2014’s “Whiplash”.
– Illustrates a poignant approach to political reporting that is relevant now more than ever. When you consider how far from normal we are in our current political landscape, a movie like “The Front Runner” outlines the question when is it too far to dig deeper, and especially when you consider everything positively that Hart had going for him, that moral dilemma feels like more of an obstacle than expected. We might not agree with the process depicted in the film, but the commendable notion that hints that the leader of the country should be the one to lead by example, is something that I couldn’t agree more with.
– The film does a great job of showcasing what it was about Hart that inspired so many. In many ways, this is a family man, who never dressed, walked, or acted like a politician, and many people saw themselves in a man who very rarely spoke at a podium. In the film, Hart often feels like the last of a dying breed, and it’s a breed that went beyond words, and required actions to back up their claims. As an informative piece, the film is strong on the political side of Gary, but leaves a bit more to be desired on the home front. Either way, it’s a timely piece of political intrigue that shouldn’t be understated for its similarities to modern day obstacles.
– As for aesthetics, the film is presented as a mockumentary style of sorts, without the extreme nature of the gimmick. What I mean by this is the camera often weaves in and out of desktop conversations with ease, stopping only to follow a character who moves out of frame to do something in private, and spies on them through books and other objects to stay firmly in grip. These sequences also occasionally throw in a manipulated sense on long take shots, keeping the focus on the importance of issues being discussed.
– In dissecting the story into three week intervals that obviously reflect the three act structure in a film, the movie is able to properly channel the bending of time between things going good and bad in Gary’s campaign. For instance, during week one when things are optimistic, time flies like a train. When things are awful for Gary, the pacing slows down and the days turn into what feels like years. This is quite a unique take on a film’s pacing, and I commend Reitman for positioning the audience into the feel of a whirlwind campaign’s random ups and downs.
– Cinematographer Eric Steelberg’s subtle balance of an 80s realism. Grittiness and production design details with elaborate movement and a genuine mastery over the place and time, are just a couple of the examples of the visual story taking place, and this perk overall elevated the film from feeling like just another imitation of style over substance. It looks and moves like a film that was produced in the 1980s, in spite of the script’s decidedly post-modern beats, and Steelberg’s photographic memory of the place in time cements the believability of the film in ways that documentation of events don’t always do.
– Despite the big name cast, credible director, and intriguing real life story, the film comes across as regrettably bland when analyzed in the sum of those parts. The film itself is alright, but considering the release date during Oscar season will inevitably leave us expecting one of the best films of the year, the execution leaves much more to be desired. As far as political biopics go, this one is very mundane and middle of the road, leaving “The Front Runner” campaigning to be something it never attains.
– Too ambiguous on where the film itself stands on the issues. Is Gary wrong? Is the media wrong? You will find that your opinions on both questions aren’t fully fleshed out by the conclusion of the movie. Because of such, the weight of the drama in the screenplay is never fully realized, despite its hefty, urgent material, and over a two year period when films like “The Post” or “Vice” are its competition, there’s much to be forgettable about Reitman’s late season project. Sadly, it’s not even the best Reitman film of 2018.
– Remarkably tone deaf for a movie that deals with such sensitive matter. For my money, I could’ve used an “Ides of March” second act switch with the tone. This would give the film great urgency, that is otherwise noticeably missing from the film, and supplant more emptathy for Hart’s disposition that the film never spends enough time on. It’s difficult to classify this as just one particular genre, and the film’s cautious stature to remain too clean for the subject matter, does it a disservice in the compelling drama department.
– Convenient narrative? How could the film forget to include the legendary National Enquirer photo, involving Donna Rice sitting on the lap of Hart, while on vacation? It’s my belief that Reitman doesn’t include this to make Hart feel like more of a victim of his own respective era, and crafts a layer of deceit for the film’s production that angered me. This might not be a big deal to other people, but to me, without that picture, the evidence against Gary is a stretch at best, and allows the floor to fall out from beneath what was a story of logic and relevance to that point.
My Grade – 6/10 or C+