The Front Runner (2018) by Jason Reitman
Review by Zach Dennis
The beginning of day two of the festival started out with a bit of a slog and I blame Hugh Jackman.
The Front Runner follows the story of Gary Hart, a senator from Colorado that was the Democratic favorite in the 1988 presidential race before an affair scandal derailed and ultimately ended the run. Jackman plays Hart with Vera Farmiga appearing as Hart’s wife, J.K. Simmons as his campaign manager and Sara Paxton as Donna Rice, the woman Hart had an affair with.
I talked about this a bit on Twitter and on the podcast, but this seems to be yet another example of filmmakers trying to respond as quickly as possible to the Trump White House and a lack of understanding that acknowledging there’s an issue is so far past being useful. Similar to something like The Post, Reitman, along with screenwriters Matt Bai and Jay Carson, make multiple winks at the camera in the form of the absurdity of the situation now and how it has become both political and journalistic norms in today’s society.
The joke that one affair could derail this presidential campaign in 1988 and the comparisons to 2016 are so blatantly obvious I’m surprised they didn’t just invite Michael Moore to tag along.
Reitman isn’t saying anything new here and he isn’t showing anything either. The direction is limp and feels like an act of going through the motions. I get that we live in a tumultuous time where people, especially creative people, try to use their outlet to make sense of the chaos, but acknowledging the problem has no consolation here. Until filmmakers discover that, and that attempting to deconstruct or even vilify the actions of the other side, then we have nothing to say here.
In the defense of The Front Runner, I did like the way it handled Donna Rice, who rather than making her the faceless blame of Hart’s fall, is given more agency than other films centering around infidelity by powerful figures have done in the past. A decent portion of the film’s second act is designated to Rice and Hart aide Ginny Terzano (Jenna Kanell) not only probes the idea of martyrdom by media narratives, but the perception of women in the workplace and how their role can be quickly reduced depending on how the situation fluxuates.
I’d also commend the work by Jackman as Hart, who displays an angry disbelief that his transgressions but it also had me thinking whether or not Reitman, Bai and Carson (who worked with Hillary Clinton) were trying to make a connection between Clinton and Hart due to the focus on non-political issues during their campaigns. While it may be far-fetched to connect Hart’s infidelities to Clinton’s email scandal, the way they prop up Hart as this very intelligent, educated politician with answers to every political issue seems close to what the narrative behind Clinton was leading up to the 2016 election. Too bad that seems grossly unfair to Clinton to make that comparison.
The Front Runner seems quickly forgettable, and I don’t see it making as much of a cultural impact when it hits theaters as it would like because, like I said before, it isn’t offering us any new insight on our current political climate and sure doesn’t know how to.