Quick Hit: Incredibly topical, but this movie sits on the fence a bit too much for my taste.
Hugh Jackman may be one of the most versatile men in Hollywood. Whether he’s putting on the Greatest Show and singing and dancing, pulling a terrific turn as an aging superhero, or even just playing a pirate, the man seemingly can do it all. That’s why it’s a bit disappointing that today’s movie, The Front Runner, directed and co-written by Jason Reitman, seems to have forgotten his unflappable charisma, and leaves him to flounder throughout a movie with a good idea, but poor follow-through.
The Front Runner is the story of politician Gary Hart (Jackman), who was running for the Democratic nomination for President in both 1984 and 1988. After a brief introduction to our characters, Gary and his wife Lee (Vera Farmiga), and his campaign manager (J. K. Simmons) in his loss of the nomination in 1984, we’re quickly catapulted to his very successful campaign in 1988. That is, until Gary gives the press an open invitation to follow him after accusations of an affair, famously positing that they would be “very bored”. However, reporters from the Herald are anything but, because, unbeknownst to Mr. Hart, he’s already being followed. Eventually he is ousted for an affair with a young woman named Donna Rice.
This leads to an interesting question, and my biggest problem with the film. The question is simple – should voters have a right to know the personal lives of the candidates they are voting for? Should we know whether or not the values they stand behind are accurately reflected in their own lives? It’s an interesting question, going all the way to the root you find even the Bible stating “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and “remove the plank in your eye before commenting on the speck in your neighbors”. But Reitman and company don’t end up on a firm morale stance here. At some points in the movie, they actively vilify Hart; at others, they deliberately ignore the things they have set up and vilify the media. It’s a torturous juxtaposition, and leaves you wanting a firm conclusion. While this question may have a lot of answers, one wishes they had chosen one in particular over the other.
However, I can’t decry the acting performances throughout, with Farmiga in particular giving an amazing performance. Lee Hart stands triumphantly by her man, but is the first to ice him with a stare and tell him that he needs to take the heat for what he did. This leads to one of Jackman’s best scenes, where he is forced to reckon with the wrath of a woman scorned. It’s the quiet moments here that make for the best parts of the movie. It’s obvious by Jackman’s smile he’s charismatic, but how he takes Hart’s outcries of justice and privacy invasion are secondary to his small reactions to what Lee gifts him with.
Overall, the movie has merits, even if it ends up too much on the fence to be a classic. I’m giving the film a “C”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"