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Review: The Front Runner

November 16, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest film from director Jason Reitman, The Front Runner is a polished and expertly acted dramatization of Gary Hart’s failed 1988 presidential bid, that also works as a cautionary tale that is particularly relevant in this current political climate.

The film unfolds over three weeks, opening with Colorado Senator Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) entering the 1988 presidential race, becoming the clear front runner for the Democratic nomination following his failed bid in 1984.

But when the media gets wind of the fact that Hart is having an extra-marital affair with a young woman by the name of Donna Rice (Sara Paxton), his campaign is rocked by a scandal that engulfs his wife (Vera Farmiga), his campaign manager (J.K. Simmons), and a young Washington Post reporter (Mamoudou Athie), who ends up in the middle of it all.

The film is a bit slow moving at times, but Reitman brings an engaging observational style to the way that he depicts the unfolding drama and the large cast of characters that get caught up in it, while also showing hints of the ripple effect that these events had on things to come. If Hart hadn’t been forced to pull out of the race in the midst of this scandal, he almost certainly would have won the presidency over George H.W. Bush, which would have seriously altered the course of history as we know it.

The film is equally timely in its depiction of a media that is rabidly obsessed with the personal lives of public officials, bolstered by the need to sell papers through more salacious headlines. The period details of the film are authentic, with an Altmanesque feel to it at times. The script has a rhythm to it that hooks us in throughout the mostly dialogue-driven scenes, with the back and forth conversations detailing the inner workings of a political campaign providing often compelling drama.

I’m a bit of a political junkie, and also tend to be a fan of Reitman’s work, which are likely contributing factors to why I enjoyed this film. Carried by an excellent performance from Jackman, who brings the appropriate amount of righteous indignance to his portrayal of a man trying to salvage his crumbling political career and is backed up by a uniformly strong supporting cast, The Front Runner works as an interesting and entertaining look at a political campaign going sideways.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

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