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Any film about a sexually incontinent presidential hopeful who goes to war with the press would have a certain resonance right now. Jason Reitman’s dense, detailed account of three fateful weeks in the life of US Senator Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman), frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in 1988, would have unavoidable Trumpian overtones even without characters making doomy predictions such as, “I fear we may get the kind of leader we deserve.”
But in fact the politicians themselves – both the defensively private Hart and the tango-hued elephant in the room – are less interesting than what the film has to say about politics itself, and the press that covers it.
The way The Front Runner tells it, 1988 represented a tipping point. It was the moment that US politics mutated into a toothy, slickly packaged personality pageant. It was the point at which the delicate journalistic balance between duty to the news and accountability to the shareholders was muddied by the realisation that the average punter was more interested in infotainment than information.
Caught in the slipstream are the campaign staff and the press corps. From jaded veterans – JK Simmons is superb as manager Bill Dixon – to idealistic rookies, all have bought into the idea of this upstanding man campaigning on a ticket of decency. To a score of battle drums, Reitman rattles through a montage of behind-the-scenes strategising. There’s a thrilling charge to the film-making. Jostling, overlapping dialogue feels lived rather than written.
Like Hart himself, Jackman’s performance seems to be holding something back, so we are guided through the story by the supporting cast. Two performances stood out for me: Mamoudou Athie is terrific as the bright young reporter who is fluent in foreign policy but stumbles through personal questions; and Jenna Kanell’s Ginny, torn between loyalty to the powerful man she works for and sympathy for the young woman thrown to the wolves at his behest, is the film’s heart and conscience.
Source: The Guardian
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