The Front Runner
dir Jason Reitman
scr Matt Bai, Jay Carson, Jason Reitman
prd Jason Reitman, Helen Estabrook, Aaron L Gilbert
with Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, JK Simmons, Alfred Molina, Mamoudou Athie, Steve Zissis, Kaitlyn Dever, Sara Paxton, Chris Coy, Molly Ephraim, Alex Karpovsky, Josh Brener, Ari Graynor
release US 6.Nov.18, UK 11.Jan.19
18/US Columbia 1h53
The Front Runner
Fallen hero: Jackman

farmiga simmons molina
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Front Runner Ticking through its narrative with a snappy pace and witty edge, this film harks back to a day when journalists were more interested in a candidate's ideas than his personal life. But then, this is the story that changed everything. Jason Reitman nicely catches both the period and the chain of events that brought tabloid journalism into politics for good. Although the film is rather dry, mainly because it avoids breaking the expertly crafted surface.

During the 1984 primaries, Colorado Senator Gary Hart (Jackman) came out of seemingly nowhere to challenge the favourites. Four years later his campaign manager Bill (Simmons) has made him front-runner to win the presidency. Meanwhile, since his campaign is based on ethics and integrity, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (Molina) and his team look into rumours about his personal life. His womanising is no different from other politicians, complete with a wife (Farmiga) who looks the other way. But this story simply won't stop.

The film is loaded with offbeat details that come through exhaustive research. Names and timelines may be juggled, but the facts are well-established, and it's the random specifics that give the film the weight of truth. Intriguingly, the film posits that Hart's key flaw was his failure to understand the public's changing mood. Passionate about the issues, he simply refuses to believe that his private behaviour is in the nation's interest.

Jackman takes a naturalistic approach, turning on the charm but subduing his star power. He comes across as an intelligent candidate with his feet on the ground. Although even though he knows someone is snooping around his personal life, he simply can't rise above the story. Both Farmiga and Paxton (as the other woman) have a few moments of depth, but other characters kind of blur into the realistically buzzy but badly overcrowded background.

In today's political atmosphere, when the US President brags about extramarital affairs and physically assaulting women, this film feels almost quaint, making the audience wonder why this story was such a big deal. But this was the moment when the paparazzi expanded from Hollywood to Washington, equating Hart's infidelity with the likes of Jim Bakker. The movie portrays the series of events with skill, but never taps into the characters' thoughts or feelings. So it's overstating things we've heard before. Indeed, in his parting shot Hart warned America that they'll get the leaders they deserve.

cert 15 themes, language 4.Dec.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall