Written by: Matt Bai, Jason Reitman, Jay Carson
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J. K. Simmons, Alfred Molina, Mamoudou Athie
The practice of electing political figures certainly no longer contains the integrity the founding fathers intended in order to have the right individual in charge. More aligned with a reality TV show or sporting event the election process has become a game of who has the least amount of blemishes on their record and how little those indiscretions reverberate with the voting public. Nothing is off-limits in order to bring down one candidate for another and The Front Runner illustrates when the difference in political and tabloid reporting became indiscernible.
Coming back once again for the chance to become president, Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) has a strong campaign behind him and sits in the favorites spot for the Democratic nomination. What once looked like a promising rise then gets very rocky when news of an extramarital affair becomes the top of the news, which puts him in a place where he either confronts this head-on or risks ruining all of his personal relationships.
As much as this story centers on Gary Hart’s political rise and fall, the meat of this narrative truly lies in the relationship between politicians and the media. One that has been constantly evolving over time and now has truly gotten to a messy point. The events taking place in 1988 contain many harrowing parallels to the current landscape and ask genuine questions regarding what becomes relevant for the public to know about a politician. Everyone has different measures for deciding who they want to vote for but one that constantly gets thrown out there is whether or not an individual of the voting public could sit down and have a beer with the presidential hopeful. Bit of a nonsense expectation but at times electing the most powerful person in a nation comes with irrational methods for an individual to throw their allegiance their way.
The Front Runner asks whether it’s really necessary for a candidate for president to reach the moral standards of everyone in the country. Seeing as this could be the slipperiest of slopes, it still raises the important question. What does Hart’s affair with another woman tell the voting public about how he would conduct himself as the President of the United States? It’s more a rhetorical question seeing as there are plenty of opinions on the manner, but this basis remains important throughout.
Media circuses and political elections go together like America and apple pie and one distinct point this film wants to make is displaying how humanity can be lost when it all becomes about getting the scoop of the story and making waves. Amidst the reporting of Hart’s affair, it is never considered amongst the journalists what kind of impact this would have on Hart’s wife and daughter. Not much thought and it only gets worse when the media find the mistress in question. A distinct lack of humanity exists when monetary gain comes from creating outrage and getting dirty information for the masses to consume. Surely, it makes sense why the film runs with the idea of political journalism switching over to tabloid reporting. Something, unfortunately, that has not seen much change in the last few years.
Now, while this film raises several poignant questions, it distinctly lacks any good answers for them, which ultimately hinders it from reaching its potential. Perhaps there are no good answers to these questions seeing as they still have not been solved to this day, but The Front Runner could have done better by actually taking a stab at some sort of position on these issues. Yes, the media are horrible in the way they treat actual human beings here but the resolution as we get to the end never really goes much deeper in the exploration of these incredibly important ideas.
Originally held up as a potential awards player for both director Jason Reitman and lead actor Hugh Jackman, this work lands mostly in the middle of their filmography in regard to quality. Reitman does nothing specifically distinct with this work. The sharpness he’s typically known for in great works like Up in the Air and Thank You For Smoking does not come out in a way that could have assisted this movie’s narrative flow. It lacked the distinct bite we’ve come to expect from him, which did a bit of a disservice to Jackman. Hindered by a pretty bad haircut, he truly tries his best with the material but it never manifests into the success he most likely wanted it to be.
Overall, I still land positively on The Front Runner as the questions it brings up contain so much validity, especially in the current political landscape. It just did not fully grasp the potential of its ideas to fully capitalize in a way expected of someone like Jason Reitman. Regardless, the structure presents a mostly entertaining story with a good cast performing at a strong level.