In the current political climate, where nobody in any position of power seems to ever be held accountable for their actions, it’s hard to believe that not even three decades ago a political candidate could have their hopes dashed overnight over idle gossip. In The Front Runner, director Jason Reitman (Juno, Labor Day, Tully) takes us back to the 1988 US presidency primaries which saw one of the first scandals of its type put an end to a political career without any substantial evidence.
On paper, presidential candidate Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) is exactly the kind of man the Democrats have been waiting for since JFK. He is smart, good-looking, and more importantly, genuinely motivated by wanting to help people. Considered by most observers to be the candidate most likely to beat his Republican counterpart, Hart soon finds himself in the middle of a scandal which was to mark a turning point in the relationship between media outlets and politicians.
After decades of sticking to the unofficial code of turning the blind-eye on extramarital affairs, even outlets such as the Washing Post soon find themselves in a competitive market in which a good headline could make or break a newspaper. When a local reporter from the Miami Herald receives an anonymous tip-off informing him that Hart may be conducting an affair behind his wife’s back, the paper sends in a small team of reporters to stake-out Hart’s DC home in he hope of catching him in the act. This soon results in a very public confrontation between the politician and the reporters in a dark alleyway behind his home. The next day, Hart finds himself having to fend off questions about his own integrity and on whether he can be trusted by the voters to deliver on his promise to always be honest and open.
Capitalising on the current trends for films that deliberately want to achieve the look of the period they were set in, Reitman does a fantastic job in replicating the era almost exactly how it’s remembered but those who lived it. With its low resolution and hand-held grainy quality, The Front Runner not only pays homage to the great political dramas of the 70s, but it also manages to go the extra mile by offering an aesthetic which is as close to those films as one can expect.
Jackman gives a measured and wonderfully subtle turn as Gary Hart, he offers the former presidential hopeful as a man of integrity and poise without ever resorting to imitation. Elsewhere Vera Farmiga gives yet another brilliant performance as Hart’s long suffering wife Lee, while Oscar winner J.K. Simmons does a fantastic job as Hart’s campaign boss Bill Dixon. Other noteworthy performances come courtesy of the brilliant Mamoudou Athie, whose scene-stealing turn as wide-eye young reporter A.J. Parker is as pivotal to the narrative as that of Oliver Cooper’s turn as campaign aid Joe Trippi.
Overall, The Front Runner presents a brilliantly well-devised and fantastically executed screenplay courtesy of Matt Bai and Jay Carson who stop at nothing in their quest for authenticity. And while Reitman’s deliberate nod to the past might seem a little gimmicky to some, in reality the film does a fantastic job in bringing an important subject to the forefront especially in these uncertain political times.