The Front Runner Movie Review
Hugh Jackman stars in the award wannabe front runner The Front Runner, a forgettable snapshot of politician Gary Hart’s fall from grace, a story that might have been interesting in pre-Trump times or with an Aaron Sorkin spin but as is lacks any real purpose or reason for existing.
The Front Runner is not a bad movie. It just isn’t a particularly good one, either. It exists in my most loathed category of film—movie purgatory—a place where films that desperately try to evoke some kind of reaction from you yet are unable to do so go to die, typically quickly. The acting is fine. The writing is fine. The directing is fine. But the movie never pops. The movie fails to establish why we should watch it.
I can understand why Jackman was attracted to a movie such as this. Gary Hart, who went from presidential frontrunner to discredited politician in the span of a few weeks, is interesting. And Jackman surely saw an opportunity to chew some scenery.
But Jackman, like the rest of the movie, feels muted. The Front Runner is unintentionally matter-of-fact, jumping from scene to scene, moment to moment, without a sense of purpose to help assemble the story into something that moves you. Should we hate Hart? Should we feel for him? Should we feel for his wife?
Who the hell knows.
The fault has to lie with director Jason Reitman. There is nothing offensively awful with The Front Runner on a scene by scene basis, but the final product is lesser than its parts. It plays best as a film about campaign crisis management, but Reitman is unwilling to commit to that focus—he is more interested in showing how Hart himself responds to the situation, which isn’t nearly as interesting. Had the movie instead made the campaign manager (J.K. Simmons) and others on the campaign the lead protagonists, The Front Runner may have been more engaging and thrilling.
Another angle would have been to establish The Front Runner as a journalistic thriller, a movie that focuses on the investigation to reveal the truth and moral debate as to whether ruining a man’s career over an extramarital affair is the right thing to do. The movie succeeds for a time in doing just this, but again, it really is more interested in Hart himself than those around him.
The Front Runner will appeal to some, and there are worse ways to spend a couple hours, but like Gary Hart’s campaign, this movie fizzles and fails before it can close the deal.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.