Isaiah Simeon ’22 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The Front Runner follows the turmoil and downfall of Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) as he campaigns in the 1988 race for the White House, where Hart was the clear favorite to win the election before a series of scandals led to his withdrawal from the race.
For a film about politics and scandals, The Front Runner is unbelievably smooth, and almost cool, which is not an easy task for a movie about a guy committing adultery. From the music – a terrific collection of easy-flowing jazz – to the cinematography, which consists of some excellent one-shot sequences that add a particular flare, the film has style.
Most of the performances in the film are solid but fairly forgettable. Jackman does a good job of playing an average politician, for whatever that’s worth. J.K. Simmons portrays Bill Dixon, Hart’s campaign manager, but for the most part, he is just being the same business-oriented straight-man that Simmons typically plays, admittedly, very well.
Comedian Bill Burr portrays one the reporters investigating Hart, but the only reason he is memorable is on account of the fact that every time he appears on screen the audience can’t help but keep asking themselves, “Is that Bill Burr with a mustache?” Yes, it is.
The strongest scene in the film, from a performance standpoint, is a heated verbal exchange between Simmons and Jackman, where both absolutely shine. Unfortunately, the film is not organized enough to allow these actors to consistently excel throughout the film.
The Front Runner suffers from its own devotion to the true history behind it. The film sets out to tell a complicated story and give insight from many different sides, but the result is a series of half-developed ideas. It’s not that the movie tries to do too much, but more so that it never quite figures out what it wants to do in the first place.
It’s partly a film critiquing ‘gotcha’ journalism, but it also alludes to the importance of accountability for politicians. In its attempt to fairly portray both sides, it muddles its own message.
The biggest shortcoming of The Front Runner is that fact that is it not a film about Gary Hart himself, but instead about his turbulent campaign.
The movie paints Hart as a figure who is all business and who never peels back the curtain and lets the public get a personal look at him. While that might work for a politician, it does not work very well for the lead of a movie. The audience never truly gets to know Hart, so it is hard to care about him.
For those who remember the controversy of the Hart campaign, the character gaps will be less noticeable since there is preconceived knowledge of the politician, but somebody with zero knowledge of the story might have trouble investing in the story.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story is its relevance in today’s political climate, and more interestingly, its lack of relevance. Hart’s campaign falls apart because he might have cheated on his wife. Compared to today, that’s fairly vanilla.
Overall, The Front Runner is a pretty movie with a less-than-stellar story but is a great niche film. Lovers of political intrigue will no doubt be able to get past its shortcomings, but the same cannot be said for the average viewer.
Overall Grade: B
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