The Front Runner film review: A near-classic political true story about a more naive time

 
James Luxford

Hugh Jackman stars in the true story of Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman), charismatic favourite for the 1987 Democratic Presidential nomination. His squeaky clean demeanour is tarnished by accusations of an affair, prompting a national debate as to how much we need to know about our leaders.


Shot in an almost documentary like fashion and making the most of a talented cast, Jason Reitman (Juno, Tully) does an impressive job drawing parallels between 80s politics and the modern day. The private lives of politicians are viewed as fair game in contemporary media, so revisiting a time when our statesmen were granted a degree of freedom behind closed doors begs the question ‘are things better now?’. Reitman offers no definitive answer, instead pointing out that human curiosity makes intrusion inevitable, and Hart’s resolute belief that the public are not interested in gossip is naive.

The ensemble of character actors flesh out the world that surrounds Hart – the always excellent JK Simmons is perfectly cast as a grizzled campaign manager, as is Vera Farmiga as his wife, a woman now forced to confront doubts she would normally disregard. Perhaps most impressive is Mamoudou Athie as a young reporter who shares Hart’s ideals but can’t ignore the lure of a good story.

Perhaps the only cast member who disappoints is Jackman himself. He handles the public side of Hart’s life so effortlessly you wonder why he hasn’t considered politics in real life. But he struggles to get beneath the skin of the character, making Hart seem deluded rather than idealistic. A glimpse into the inner workings of his mind would have made the film more compelling, and perhaps pushed it into Oscar contention.

Well acted and thought provoking, The Front Runner is a perfectly timed lesson from the past that explains how we got to the warts-and-all state of current political coverage. It’s the kind of film that’s guaranteed to provoke many a long discussion on the way home from the cinema.


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